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DNR joins in multiagency survey of St. Marys River fish community

Aug. 3, 2017

The St. Marys River fish community will be the subject of a collection effort and survey this month by the St. Marys River Fisheries Task Group of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The survey will assess the abundance and status of various fish populations.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will participate in the netting survey as one of the project partners, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Also assisting will be the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of Canada and Lake Superior State University.

“The purpose of the study is to gauge the health and status of the various fish populations in the river,” said David Fielder, one of the fisheries research biologists leading the DNR’s portion of the study. “Target species of importance to the researchers include walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake sturgeon and cisco, just to name a few, along with any invasive species.”

The survey will tell fisheries managers if the resident fish populations are healthy or not and which way they are trending in abundance. Management decisions such as stocking and harvest regulations are based on the findings of these surveys. This is the river's ninth comprehensive survey since 1975.

The survey uses variable mesh gillnets to collect fish specimens. Fish will be weighed and measured, and a bony structure like a dorsal spine will be collected for determining the age of individual fish. In all, there will be 44 locations netted to fully sample the river and represent the various fish populations. Any fish (that are edible) killed during the survey will be donated to local food banks after being examined.

The St. Marys River is an international border water and spans many different jurisdictions, which historically made surveys like this difficult. Beginning in the late 1990s, however, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission created the St. Marys River Fisheries Task Group to coordinate the joint work of all these partner agencies. Now these agencies all use the same methods and gears and divide up the sampling locations and subsequent lab work, and jointly analyze the results. The survey is repeated about every five years and each participating agency pays for the part of the work that it conducts.

Besides the fish community survey, the St. Marys River currently is the subject of a survey of angler fishing effort and catch also being coordinated by the St. Marys River Fisheries Task Group and jointly conducted by the DNR and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. That "creel survey" information is paired with the fish community survey to give fisheries managers a full picture of the status of the fisheries. Anglers contacted by DNR and Ontario Ministry creel census clerks are encouraged to cooperate because their information is a critical piece of data for fisheries managers.

The netting survey will be completed within the month. Anglers and boaters may see buoys marking the nets and crews working. A written report and public presentations on the findings will be made available after the study is completed.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to

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