Great Lakes salmon videos can help students, anglers

The Michigan Sea Grant is producing videos to teach students and anglers about salmon in the Great Lakes.

The idea began as a way to keep up with the growing popularity of Michigan’s Salmon in the Classroom program, which allows students to raise salmon in their schools and eventually release them in a local watershed.

The program is a great opportunity for young people to learn about the life cycles of fish, said Dan O’Keefe, the southwest district educator for Michigan Sea Grant.

“It’s amazing what these classrooms have accomplished,” O’Keefe said. “But when these groups were looking for additional resources or speakers to come talk to them, it was just impossible to make it to every school.

“The videos became a way to reach everyone, and to tell the story of how salmon eventually reach the Great Lakes,” he said.

O’Keefe understands a youthful fascination with fish – he has been fishing in Michigan since he was three years old.

The Salmon in the Classroom program allows students to raise and learn about Great Lakes fish. Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The Salmon in the Classroom program allows students to raise and learn about Great Lakes fish. Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“I loved how this program opened up questions as to how these fish were introduced – Chinook salmon, which the classrooms use, aren’t native to the Great Lakes,” O’Keefe explained. “So there’s a chance to teach about how the environment changed, how salmon are stocked. And we can compare and contrast captive rearing and natural reproduction.”

O’Keefe said he hopes to make at least four or five more videos about salmon life cycles, through both artificial and natural reproduction. But he’s also open to creating more videos about other species in the Lakes.

“These videos may open doors to educate about other fish, both native and invasive species, like the zebra mussel or the spiny water flea,” he said. “The first video focused on raising young salmon in classrooms, but as you dig deeper into the story, it ties in with other programs and groups of people.”

One group includes Great Lakes anglers, and O’Keefe also discussed the Michigan Sea Grant’s early plans for a pilot Salmon Ambassador program.

“There’s been this mass initiative to mark stocked fish with fin clips,” O’Keefe said. “Next year we hope to build a volunteer base of fishermen that could provide data on the types of fish they’re catching.

“By next year all Chinook salmon in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan will be marked,” he added. “Fishermen will be able to tell if they’re catching a stock fish or a wild fish, and by giving us that data we can know where these fish are being caught and where they may be spawning.”

  • Tom M.

    Hey Dan, how ya been? I said chinook salmon NEED 123 pounds per chinook, not just they eat them, I’m sure Chuck told you, weren’t you part of this study? Was 103 pounds now 20% more 123 pounds smaller alewives ask Chuck. Lot of fish eat alewives only chinook dependant on them to survive, big difference. Harold is right both non-native, and the The Lake Michigan Fish objectives calls for alewife dominant, this destroys the natural ecosystem/fishery. Lake Huron/Saginaw Bay alewives a non-issue, entire native population coming back “gangbusters” the DNR said, no stocking required for 7 years now. Bob, Walleyes and Perch eat alewives, real good at it, ask Dan.That’s why we can’t have lots.
    Roger, Why is the DNR going broke, don’t these billions of invisible salmon guys buy a fishing license? Go over to Saginaw Bay and tell them you have to get rid of the walleyes and bring alewives back, because this full boat launch isn’t real! You don’t have to catch fish in winter, save your money in winter and pay $500. to fish salmon for 4 hours! People are so silly ain’t they Roger? Better to sacrifice the entire ecosystem for one fish.

  • Roger

    Tom & Harold,

    The harbors of the Great Lakes would become ghost towns without the salmon and steelhead trout that were introduced from the West Coast.
    Sportfishing for these wonderful species provides thousands of jobs and billions of dollars for the Great Lakes region, with virtually no harmful impact. If we were somehow able to remove the salmon, you would be the 1st to bitch about tons of alewives washed up on the beaches, as happened in the mid 60′s at Chicago and Milwaukee. Help yourself to the “native” lake trout that most fishermen catch and release because they are greasy tablefare, and the USFWS spends millions for restoration because of sea lamprey depredation. Alewive, smelt, salmon, zebra mussels, spiny waterflea and lamprey are here to stay. Our fishery’s biologists work very hard to help us manage the resource so that we will have a clean, sustainable big water fishery for our children and grandchildren.

  • Bob

    What Tom doesn’t address in his thinking is how to keep alewife out of the upper great lakes, if that is his goal. Alewife were not intentionally introduced, but a consequence of opening shipping routes around Niagara Falls. He may not want salmon in the Great Lakes, but their presence is a consequence of alewife entering the system. Even if alewife populations collapse they will, at least in theory, come back to the system, the Welland Canal isn’t going away.

  • Dan O’Keefe

    Do Chinook salmon eat alewife? Absolutely. Do they thrive in the absence of alewife. No, at least not from what we have seen so far in the Great Lakes. Do alewife negatively influence native fish? Yes, as least for certain native species in certain places. In the case of Lake Michigan, alewife are not the sole cause of low perch recruitment – but the resurgence of naturally reproducing walleye in the Saginaw Bay watershed following the alewife crash in 2004 provides good evidence that alewife were limiting walleye recruitment in that system.

    One of the things I like about the Salmon in the Classroom program is that it provides a connection between students, fish, and the Great Lakes. That connection generates interest and provides “teachable moments” to explore the complexity of invasive species impacts on Great Lakes ecology and the decisions that fisheries managers face.

    Tom brings up a good point that I also mention in classrooms to highlight this complexity. At first glance, one would think that if salmon eat alewife and alewife damage native species, it would be good to encourage a high salmon population. Fish Community Objectives for Lake Michigan call for a diverse group of predators (including salmon) under the assumption that alewife and their negative impacts on native species can be suppressed without completely eliminating both alewife and salmon.

    There is evidence both for and against this assumption, some of which is included in longer, more technical videos available on our Michigan Sea Grant YouTube Channel and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission website:

    https://www.youtube.com/user/MichiganSeaGrant
    http://www.glfc.org/lakecom/video/2013_upper.html

  • Tom M.

    Spot on Harold. In Maryland they raise Perch in schools and release them. I’m very sure O’Keefe failed to mention that every Chinook requires a minimum of 123 pounds of alewives per chinook, and that alewives deplete native fish stocks, and zooplankton. Kids would have a better chance of catching a perch they raised, or one like it, but they’re trying to sell salmon.

  • Harold

    It seems that the Michigan DNR is going all-out to promote non-native species in the Great Lakes. When it comes to salmon, I guess that indoctrinating young kids is “parr” for the course.