Using rivers to help save struggling whitefish populations in Lake Michigan

Rivers represent a glimmer of hope in the battle to save whitefish. Photo by Sindre Fs (Pexels).

Whitefish populations in the Lake Michigan/Huron basin have suffered dramatic losses over the past decade due to numerous environmental threats. Scientists hope to save them by transferring eggs to rivers to teach whitefish to spawn away from danger. 

Kris Dey, hatchery manager for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, says “we don’t have a lot of time.”  

Michigan’s rivers present a gleam of hope. Inspired by Wisconsin, where whitefishresumed spawning in the tributaries of Green Bay in the 1990s. The Little Traverse Bay Band, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Bay Mills Indian Community, The Nature Conservancy and the Michigan Department of Natural Resource are now working together to revive Michigan’s rivers and attempt to invigorate them as hatching grounds. 

“There’s a lot of really good habitat that’s available,” said Matt Herbert, a senior conservation scientist with The Nature Conservancy in Michigan. “We just need to help them find it.”

Whitefish historically used rivers as spawning grounds before widespread environmental degradation, damming rivers and sawdust from early logging operations choked them out. But after decades of river restoration efforts, the Tribes and scientists believe that the work has made the rivers capable of supporting whitefish spawning. 

Last fall, the team collected eggs from adult fish caught in Lake Michigan. Over winter, they transferred eggs into containers destined for the Jordan River. Another batch will go to the Carp River, a Lake Huron tributary in the Upper Peninsula. 


Focusing in on fish activity in the Great Lakes: fisheries researchers use GoPros to monitor fish activity

GoPros can be used to remotely collect data (Photo Luis Quintero, Pexels)

A number of Tribes in northern Michigan, plus state and federal fisheries researchers are taking a modern approach to fisheries research.

While researchers traditionally use gill nets to sample fish populations, this spring, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians will be using Go Pros to capture video footage of fish communities in Lake Michigan reefs. This approach will allow biologists to observe how fish communities behave and interact without removing fish from the population.

Chris Hessell, a Great Lakes fisheries biologist with the Grand Traverse Band, said the goal is to capture footage of fish communities in multiple locations throughout the lake without disturbing them. With cameras, “we can sample multiple habitats within the same day,” Hessel said. “It definitely allows us to get a broader understanding of the area within a single time frame.”

Similar research has already produced surprising results. “We’re finding out that the difference between West [Grand Traverse] Bay and East [Grand Traverse] Bay are almost as different as … Green Bay and Leland. There’s a genetic difference in some fish, the way fish move are different,” Hessel said. “These areas are so close to each other but the fish are just not doing what we originally expected.”


First Nations fear water woes with Ring of Fire development

The “Ring of Fire” is a large mineral deposit in northern Ontario (Photo: I Love Pixel, Pexel)

First Nations are expressing concern about developing the “Ring of Fire” in Northern Ontario. Apprehension surrounding the project, focused on mineral mining, is fuelled by concerns over environmental impacts, especially water quality and quantity — a huge issue for Indigenous communities throughout Canada and the United States.

The Anishinaabe Nations fear mining operations in the Ring of Fire will lead to water contamination, jeopardizing both aquatic life and the safety of drinking water for their communities. The significant water requirements for the project may also strain local water sources. In addition, they are concerned about habitat destruction due to deforestation for mine development.

Indigenous leaders are calling for careful consideration of these environmental impacts, emphasizing their right to meaningful consultation throughout the project’s planning and execution, as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They are advocating for thorough environmental assessments and sustainable approaches to mitigate potential harms to Northern Ontario’s biodiversity and the well-being of Indigenous communities.