Fisheries research vessels out on Great Lakes
LANSING — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced all four of its fisheries research vessels are back on the water, beginning their annual surveys of Great Lakes fish populations.
Surveys conducted by these research vessels are designed to examine and collect information on all aspects of the lakes’ fish communities and their habitats. This information is essential in supporting the DNR’s mission to conserve, protect and manage the billion-dollar Great Lakes fishery resource for the use and enjoyment of current and future generations and continues assessment and evaluation work that started in the 1960s.
“The DNR’s Great Lakes research vessels are based in Marquette, Alpena, Charlevoix and Harrison Township,” said DNR Fisheries Division Research Section Manager Gary Whelan. “They work throughout the Great Lakes on a wide variety of assessments and evaluations, beginning this work as soon as ice has cleared from the lakes and continuing well into November.”
Fisheries assessment and evaluation work on Lake Huron is done by the research vessel (R/V) Tanner, the DNR’s newest vessel launched in 2016. This vessel focuses on specific assessments of Lake Huron lake trout and walleye populations, as well as broader fisheries assessments in Saginaw Bay and the St. Marys River that evaluate fish community changes in these valuable Great Lakes systems. The Saginaw Bay evaluations also are conducted jointly with the R/V Channel Cat, which is based in Lake St. Clair at the fisheries research station in Harrison Township.
Assessment and evaluation of fish populations in lakes St. Clair and Erie are entrusted to the R/V Channel Cat, which has been in service since 1968. This vessel focuses its sampling on walleye, yellow perch and lake sturgeon in these waters that support the highest fishing effort in Michigan’s Great Lakes waters.
Lake Superior work is conducted by the R/V Lake Char, which launched in 2007. The Lake Char assesses the status of Lake Superior’s self-sustaining lake trout populations along with other members of the unique fish community found in that water. Information collected by this vessel is used to generate annual lake trout harvest quotas to ensure the continued health of these fish populations and on lake trout sea lamprey wounding rates, a key mortality factor for this species. The latter effort helps to guide sea lamprey control work by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On Lake Michigan, the survey vessel (S/V) Steelhead conducts a variety of fisheries assessments and evaluations, including spring evaluations of adult yellow perch, whitefish, lake trout and Chinook salmon populations. The Steelhead was launched in 1967 and has been in continuous operation since 1968, making the 2017 survey season the 50th year on the water for this vessel. Later in the summer, the Steelhead teams up with vessels from the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to evaluate lakewide forage fish abundance, which is critical information for the proper management of trout and salmon in this lake.
Throughout the summer, DNR vessels are visible residents of Great Lakes ports. When in port, the public is encouraged to visit the vessels and talk with the crews about fisheries assessment operations.
“When the vessels are collecting sampling equipment and nets or when under way operating trawls, we ask that the public give the vessels plenty of operating space as they often cannot easily steer out of the way and have a lot of mechanical equipment operating that requires the absolute attention by the crews for safe operation,” said Whelan.
To learn more about the efforts of each of the DNR’s vessels, visit the DNR Fisheries Division’s Research website at michigan.gov/fishresearch or check out the DNR’s online fact sheet about these research vessels.