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fish

Photo by Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

The people who manage salmon in Lake Michigan will have to decide soon how many fish to put into the lake.  The salmon fishery is a manmade industry in the Great Lakes.  It’s produced by planting millions and millions of fish in the lakes.  But keeping the salmon population in balance with the food supply is a challenge these days.  And some scientists are raising new questions about the salmon’s demise in Lake Huron and whether that can be stopped in Lake Michigan.  

Salmon were brought in from the Pacific Ocean.

USFWS

The sport fishery has been on the rocks in Lake Huron for quite some time.

We first reported on the collapse in Lake Huron back in 2006.

That's when Jim Johnson with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Alpena Fisheries Research Station explained to Lester Graham what was going on:

"There was a huge decline in the amount of nutrients available to zooplankton and phytoplankton in the middle of Lake Huron. These are the basic nutrient bits that fish eat. And it appears now to most of us in the scientific community that a large portion of the nutrients that used enter Lake Huron are now being trapped by zebra and quagga mussels and not finding their way to alewives and other prey fish."

Now we hear news that the state plans to cut salmon stocking in Lake Huron.

From the Associated Press:

Michigan plans a sharp cutback in Chinook stocking in Lake Huron next year, further evidence of the collapse of the lake's salmon fishery.

The state Department of Natural Resources said Friday it will place 693,000 spring Chinook fingerlings in Lake Huron in 2012. That's down from the nearly 1.5 million fed to the lake this year.

Acting DNR fisheries chief Jim Dexter says recreational harvest of Chinook has all but disappeared in the southern two-thirds of Lake Huron. The lake's only productive recreational fishery is in the northern section, where salmon are proving able to reproduce on their own.

Fish biologists blame Huron's Chinook drop-off on the unraveling of the food chain likely caused by invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which have gobbled up plankton needed by forage fish.

Photo by Bob Allen

A small but notorious dam on one of northern Michigan's prettiest trout streams might soon come down. But what fishermen value about the Pigeon River is at odds with how the owners of the dam view it.

Owners at Golden Lotus yoga retreat have twice made big mistakes operating their dam over the last quarter century. And each time, muck from the pond behind the dam surged downstream. It smothered river life, and killed tens of thousands of trout.

Dave Smethurst has been fishing, hunting and hiking in the Pigeon River State Forest for the last 40 years. And both times the dam failed, he was there to witness the destruction.

"To see my river, and for trout fishermen rivers are very personal, to see my river devoid of life for several miles, it just wrenches your gut.”

Smethurst is on the board of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. T.U. is party to a lawsuit by the state of Michigan against Golden Lotus. The organization has been pushing for the entire dam to come out.

Photo by Rebecca Williams

Here in Michigan, we have the world’s largest collection of dead fish. At least, the world’s largest collection that’s based at a university.

There are about 3.5 million fish in this collection. It belongs to the Museum of Zoology at the University of Michigan.

Bill Fink is the director of the Museum of Zoology and Curator of Fishes.

He’s offered to take me on a guided tour. We take the elevator to the basement... where there’s row after row of shelves full of glass jars... full of fish.

“These specimens are from Japan and they were collected in 1920s – we have specimens that are well over a hundred years old now and they look fine.”

Bill Fink says these fish have been collected from all over the world, sometimes at great risk to the scientists. He points out the box of jars from Vietnam.

“They were collecting during war, the Mekong River Survey. They were shot at and captured and escaped and there were lots of adventures.”

Bill Fink is not just the curator here... he also goes out in the field. He says some of the fish themselves are dangerous for the collectors.

“We also have a huge collection of piranhas right here...I’ve been there when people have been bitten but I personally have not been bitten. I’m really careful.”

Fink shows me some amazing fish... like the tiny anglerfish with its appendage that glows in the dark at the bottom of the ocean.

Photo by Chris Harnish, courtesy of Interlochen Public Radio

Decades ago, residents sued to stop a fish hatchery in northern Michigan from polluting a lake. More than thirty years later, the legal battles have ended and the pollution has been greatly reduced.

Northern Michigan is home to some of the clearest blue lakes in the world, like Torch, Glen and Crystal.

Once upon a time Wilfred Sweicki says Platte Lake in Benzie County was in that league.

“It was extremely clear, never quite as clear as Crystal or Glen but nearly so.”

Unfortunately for Sweicki and other homeowners on Platte, fishery biologists did something nearby that changed the Great Lakes dramatically.

They planted Pacific salmon in the Platte River.

That was in the late sixties and soon a billion dollar fishery was born.

A hatchery was built and animal waste from millions of fish began pouring into Platte Lake. The waste contained the nutrient phosphorus.

Phosphorous caused algae to bloom, clouding the water and killing a variety of aquatic animals and plants.

It even caused chemical changes in the sediment of the lake bottom that produced milky clouds of a clay-like substance that collects on stones and docks.

A salmon fishing boat.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

We've been spending the past couple months going on fishing trips, and talking to people who fish for fun and for a living... to bring you stories about everything you never knew you wanted to know about fish and fishing in the Great Lakes.

Today, you can hear the result of our effort in a special one-hour documentary we're calling Swimming Upstream.

We'll tag along on a salmon fishing trip with Lester Graham, go on an Asian carp rodeo on the Illinois River, meet commercial fishers (both tribal and non-tribal), and go fishing with Dustin Dwyer as he gets into the mind of a fish.

We think of the Lakes today as a great place to play on the beach, to swim, to go fishing. But those huge, beautiful lakes are changing.

The changes are happening so fast that the agencies which manage fishing cannot keep up with them.

On average, a new foreign species gets into the Lakes every seven months. Each could be a threat to the lakes and the fish in the lakes. We explore the health and future of the Great Lakes, and hear stories about fish and the people who catch them.

Listen to it here:

Or tune in today at 1pm and 8pm on Michigan Radio to hear Swimming Upstream and let us know what you think.

Find out more about fish consumption advisories: in Michigan,  in Ohio, in Wisconsin, in New York, and in Illinois.

Photo by Flickr user: eye of einstein

State officials say they’ve discovered a virus for the first time in wild fish in Michigan. It’s called koi herpesvirus.

Gary Whelan is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

He says the virus might have contributed to the death of several hundred common carp in Kent Lake last June. Whelan says the virus is known to affect common carp, goldfish and koi. And it can be fatal.

The new Michigan Fish Advisory is out.  The advisory lists which Great Lakes fish are fairly safe to eat, and which should be avoided.

In general, blue gill, crappie, yellow perch and rock bass are safer to eat than fish like carp, lake trout, white fish, and catfish.

Women of child-bearing age and children have to be especially cautious about eating too many fish, because chemicals in fish can potentially cause neurological damage.

State toxicologist Kory Groetsch says the level of mercury in locally-caught fish has stayed about the same over the past few decades.

Image courtesy of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Today, we wrap up our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula to gather stories for this series. And today we have a story we wish we didn't have to do. It's the story of toxins in our fish. 

Here's Dustin's story:

A few weeks ago, Joe Bohr got a surprise. He's a researcher for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He was looking at some numbers for PCB contamination in carp caught in canals in St. Clair Shores.

Jerde et al.

The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basin are connected, but it's an artificial connection.

Around the turn of the last century canals and channels were dug that reversed the flow of water.

Waters that used to flow into Lake Michigan now flow into the Des Plaines River and eventually into the Mississippi.

The reversal was a way of separating Chicago's sewage from its drinking water supply.

And with more than 2 billion gallons of water a day flowing out of Lake Michigan, it's the largest diversion of Great Lakes water.

Undoing what was done around a hundred years ago has been considered crazy talk because of the expense involved, but some scientists are now embracing that idea.

In a new paper released in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, four lead scientists (Jerry Rasmussen, Henry Regier, Richard Sparks, and William Taylor) argue that the costs of permanent separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basin are worth it.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

This week, we've been hearing stories about fish, for our series "Swimming Upstream." For today's story, Dustin Dwyer paid a visit to some researchers with the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR tracks fish populations at sites around the state. Dustin went aboard with the team on Lake St. Clair, and sent us this report.

Photo by Dustin Dwyer

All this week, Dustin Dwyer has been bringing us fish stories from around the state for our series, Swimming Upstream. And for today's story, Dustin wanted to get into the mind of a fish. So, he met up with a charter boat captain on Saginaw Bay.  Here's his story:

There's no evidence that fish understand irony. But if they did, they might find irony in the fact that the people who best understand them are the people who get paid to kill them - or at least injure their lips slightly.

Photo by Dustin Dwyer

All this week, we're focusing on stories about fish for our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer traveled all around the Lower Peninsula for the series, and for today's story, he went to the site of a former trout farm along the headwaters of the Manistee River, near Grayling. Dustin went to learn about the complex world of dam removal.  Here's his story:

Photo by Dustin Dwyer

Today we continue our series, Swimming Upstream. Dustin Dwyer took a road trip around the Lower Peninsula to bring us stories about fish. Yesterday we heard about the Petersens. They’re one of the few remaining non-tribal commercial fishing families in the state.

Today Dustin tells the story of the Fish Mongers Wife:


It's a grey day at the Muskegon Farmer's Market, but Amber Mae Petersen is selling the heck out of some fresh Michigan whitefish.

“We're based here in Muskegon, my husband's family has been commercial fishing here for 75 years. So we sell what we catch.”

The vacuum-sealed bags of whitefish filets, and packages of smoked whitefish are disappearing quickly. Petersen's husband Eric stands next to her, packing the fish in ice and wrapping it in old copies of The Muskegon Chronicle.

“It's the only way to do it.”

Image by Josh Leo/Rick Treur

Today we begin a series called Swimming Upstream. It's about one of Michigan's most valuable natural resources: fish. These slimy, scaly water dwellers contribute to the ecology of the Great Lakes, our economy, and, of course, our dinner plate.

Reporter Dustin Dwyer has traveled all over the lower peninsula to gather these fish stories for us, and he starts with a simple question: why can it sometimes be so difficult to buy fresh fish caught in Michigan? 

Here's Dustin's story:

User: Lebatihem / Flickr

State health and environmental officials are expanding the scope of their testing for PCB in fish in Lake St. Clair.

PCB is a toxic compound that was used in electrical and industrial equipment. The chemical was banned in the 70s for its toxicity.  

Joe Bohr is with the Department for Environmental Quality. He says while the PCB found in the fish is 10 times what is considered safe, the amount of PCB in Michigan’s waters is decreasing.  

screen grab from YouTube video / sWestern Lake Erie Waterkeepers and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund

Power plants around the region are responsible for killing hundreds of millions of fish each year, according to an investigative report from the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune's environmental reporter, Michael Hawthorne, looked at thousands of pages of industry reports documenting fish kills obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Hawthorne reports that the reports "highlight a threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem that has largely gone unaddressed for years."

Corvair Owner

A fish-killing virus has been found in Budd Lake in Clare County. The viral hemorrhagic septicema or VHS virus can infect a lot of species in the Great Lakes basin.

Gary Whelan, from Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division, says the number of fish at risk is small compared to the fish kill found in Lake Erie in 2006. 

Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

For twenty years now the federal government has been trying to restore wild lake trout in Lake Michigan. Lake trout are native to the Great Lakes and were once the big game fish in all the lakes. The species is doing well in Lakes Superior and Huron these days. But recovery efforts in Lake Michigan have been almost a total failure.

Lake trout don’t have a big fan club. Anglers would prefer to land a salmon. And retail markets for lake trout are weak.

Rich Clarke

The fish-killing virus is known as viral hemorrhagic septicemia and it has been found in this region since 2003, according to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University. Massive fish die-offs were first recorded in the 2005.

Now, another die-off has been found. From the Associated Press:

HARRISON, Mich. (AP) - A fish-killing virus has been detected again in a lake near the mid-Michigan community of Harrison.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday announced that viral hemorrhagic septicemia, or VHS, has been confirmed in Budd Lake.

The 175-acre lake in Clare County experienced a die-off of largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegills, and pumpkinseed sunfish in April and May. Test results indicate that largemouth and smallmouth bass were positive for VHS. Other results were pending.

A similar die-off involving bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass and muskellunge occurred in the spring of 2007, and VHS was identified in the lake after those deaths. The state says VHS was undetected through 2010 in testing that took place each year.

Budd Lake is one two Michigan inland lakes where VHS has been confirmed.

The virus is troubling, especially when it attacks 60 pound sport fish like the muskellunge. The Environment Report captured what the virus means to sport fisherman in a piece by David Sommerstein.

Sommerstein reports that fish exposed to the virus can develop immunity, but biologists worry that new generations of fish won't carry that immunity with them, so they're vulnerable when the virus comes around.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

New research finds that fish in the Great Lakes are contaminated with a chemical used in aircraft hydraulic fluids.

Researcher Amila DeSilva works for Environment Canada, which is like the EPA in the U.S.

She says there have been studies on a number of perflourinated chemicals. They’re used to make textiles, upholstery, paper, and many other things. Studies have shown these types of chemicals can have toxic effects in humans. But not much is known about a chemical called perfluoroethylcyclohexanesulfonate - or PFECHS for short.

DeSilva says no one has really studied whether it's toxic.

She wanted to see if PFECHS was in the environment, so she and her colleagues sampled water and fish in the Great Lakes, specifically lake trout and walleye:

“We were really, really surprised to find it in fish. Because, just based on the structure and our chemical intuition we thought, ‘okay, it would be more likely to be in water than in fish’ so when we found it in fish, when you find anything in fish, it’s a whole other ballgame because humans consume fish.”

DeSilva says other perflourinated acids are endocrine disruptors. That means they create hormone imbalances in humans, and they have other toxic effects. She says once these chemicals are released into the environment they don’t degrade, they just build up. That’s why use of some chemicals in this class is highly restricted in the U.S. and Canada.

Photo courtesy of USFWS

There’s a decision looming for Lake Huron that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. The state must decide whether it should keep putting chinook salmon in the lake. The fish has been the driving force behind sport fishing in the Great Lakes. But the salmon’s future in the Upper Lakes is now questionable.

It’s hard to overstate how drastically salmon transformed the Great Lakes after they were introduced more than 40 years ago.

Ed Retherford is a charter boat captain on Lake Huron. He says in the old days on a weekend in Rockport he’d see cars with boat trailers backed up for a mile or two waiting to launch. But that’s all gone now.

“You’d be lucky, except maybe for the brown trout festival, you’d be lucky to see twenty boats there on a weekend. It just decimated that area. You can imagine the economics involved.”

Chinook or king salmon practically disappeared from Lake Huron about seven years ago. Most of the charter boats are gone now because the kinds of fish that remain are just not as exciting to catch as salmon.

State officials figure little towns like Rockport lose upwards of a million dollars in tourism business every year without the fishery.

Big fish kills in Lake St. Clair and along the St. Clair river this winter puzzled some residents and scientists in the area. The Detroit News reported that, "the cause of the massive fish die-offs, which began in mid-December, remains a mystery to state investigators...Dead gizzard shad is a common sight this time of year — but not in the tens to hundreds of thousands being reported this winter."

User scrappy annie / Flickr

For Michigan's Christian population (including around 2 million Catholics), today marks the beginning of Lent.

During Lent, many adherents give up meat and dairy products.

Over at the Detroit News, columnist Kate Lawson is serving up a scrumptious-looking lemony shrimp with asparagus, a seafood recipe for people looking for something tasty and healthy.

Lawson also notes there are very good non-religious reasons for wanting to increase the amount of fish in your diet.

"At my house, we follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recent release of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and eat seafood at least twice each week for heart and brain benefits."

The reasons for eating seafood, and the advantages, are significant. Again, from Health.gov:

"Seafood contributes a range of nutrients, notably the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Moderate evidence shows that consumption of about 8 ounces per week of a variety of seafood, which provide an average consumption of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA, is associated with reduced cardiac deaths among individuals with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease."

But there are some concerns over which types of fish to eat, especially for women of child-bearing age and children. The concern is over mercury exposure and some fish can contain higher levels of mercury than others.

The Environmental Protection Agency has some guidelines to help you avoid mercury in fish in its "One Fish, Two Fish, Don't Fish, Do Fish" brochure.

Meanwhile, the New York Times is whipping up vegan recipes for the meat- and dairy-avoiding portion of their readership, including one for baked beans with mint and tomatoes, the kind of dish that goes perfectly with a stack of unleavened bread.

And, at 384 calories per serving, it's pretty healthy.

And, finally, here's chef Bobby Flay with one last seafood recipe for Lent:

Brian Short - Michigan Radio Newsroom

flickr user molajen

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting "a bizarre scene evolving along the Chicago lakefront."

Geese and mallard ducks are apparently gulping down thousands of dead fish that are in the ice or floating in the open water around the ice.

The paper quotes Lake Michigan Program biologist Dan Makauskas who says:

"Gizzard shad are pretty sensitive. On the toughness scale, [they] are pretty soft."

Some biologists attribute the die-off to lower oxygen levels because of ice cover around the lakefront.

Former Muskegon Chronicle reporter Jeff Alexander wrote about a gizzard shad die-off on Mona Lake in Muskegon County back in 2008.

That die-off was attributed to a hard winter as well. From Alexander's report:

Gizzard shad die-offs are common in several area lakes. The fish often die during winter as ice cover decreases oxygen levels in the water; the fish also die from thermal shock when the lake warms up rapidly in the spring, said Rich O'Neal, a fisheries biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Gizzard shad are members of the herring family and are native to the Great Lakes.

Deer
Noel Zia Lee/Flickr

Michigan's soon-to-be Director of the Department of Natural Resources, Rodney Stokes, says he wants more people to hunt and fish in the state.

Stokes was named director of the department by Governor-elect Rick Snyder earlier this month.  Snyder announced he would be dividing the Department of Natural Resources and Environment into two agencies: The Department of Natural Resources and The Department of Environmental Quality.

Stokes told The Detroit News that he wants to expand the focus of the department's recruitment efforts and that he has no plans to increase license fees.

The Associated Press reports:

Revenues from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses were $45.3 million in the most recent budget, said Sharon Schafer, the department's assistant division chief for administration and finance. That's down from 2005 when adjusted for inflation.

Current distribution of the Bighead Carp
USGS

Update December 3rd 5:13 pm:

Marc Gaden of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission says "as far as I know, no one thinks there are any Asian Carp in Lake Erie." He says Lake Erie is colored red in the USGS map above because two Bighead carp were found in commercial fishman's nets several years ago. They colored the entire Lake red based on these two incidents.

December 1st 5:27 pm:

Rogue River
Trout Unlimited

Efforts to protect and restore a cold water fishery north of Grand Rapids could serve as an example for the nation.

Fishermen know the Rogue River best for its spring and winter steelhead runs through Rockford. National coldwater conservation group Trout Unlimited also wants to protect habitat for the brook and rainbow trout that live there. So it designated the watershed as its newest "home river."

Carp caught in Lake Calumet
USFWS

The Associated Press reports that The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is giving $500,000 to the Great Lakes Commission to help it find ways to stop the invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes.

The fish started make their way up the Mississippi River system more than ten years ago after they escaped from fish farm ponds in the south. They were imported to control parasites in the ponds. 

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