Michigan DNR’s Fleet Of Research Vessels Set Out Once More To Assess Great Lakes Fisheries

By on June 1, 2015

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has performed routine evaluations and assessments of the Great Lakes’ fisheries — an industry worth about $7 billion — since the 1960s.

This year, the agency’s fleet of research vessels will hit the lakes again with only a few changes to the long-running lineup, including updates to an aging vessel.

The fishery research fleet comprises several vessels, each focusing on a different lake and target species. Three of the vessels were commissioned for research in 1968, and will continue to examine predator and prey populations throughout the lakes over the next several months.

Launched as a law enforcement boat in 1947, the R/V Chinook has conducted research on Lake Huron trout and walleye since 1968. The venerable vessel also evaluates fish community changes in Saginaw Bay and the St. Marys River, but may soon find itself out of a job.

“We are in the process of building a new vessel to replace the old R/V Chinook,” said Gary Whelan, program manager of the Michigan DNR Fisheries Division. “It will be a sister vessel to the R/V Lake Char, built using the same footprint with improvements.”

Christened the R/V Tanner, the Chinook replacement will feature the latest hydroacoustic survey gear, sidescan sonar and an onboard ROV, according to Todd Wills, Michigan DNR research manager for Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

“The most noticeable improvements in the Tanner will be better on-the-water stability due to its hull design, a state-of-the-art navigation system, a compartmental hull for safety, and twin engines that will have a greater cruising range and speed than the single-engine Chinook,” Wills said.

Michigan DNR’s Research Vessel Lake Char near Marquette, Mich., during a survey using gill nets. (Credit: David Kenyon/Michigan DNR)

The R/V Lake Char has set out to study Lake Superior’s trout populations, and will collect data to inform harvest quotas for the season. Launched in 2007, the DNR’s newest vessel will also keep an eye on sea lampreys, an invasive species that acts as a key threat to Superior’s trout.

Lakes St. Clair and Erie are under observation from the R/V Channel Cat, whose focus lies on walleye, yellow perch and lake sturgeon. Wills says that the ‘Cat is set to receive a new engine soon, which should extend its service life by 20-25 years.

The S/V Steelhead will tackle a spring study on Lake Michigan involving yellow perch, whitefish, lake trout and Chinook salmon, before working vessels from the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later in the summer. The joint study will determine forage fish abundance in the lake, providing information for its trout and salmon fisheries.

According to a Michigan DNR press release, the research vessels will be present at many Great Lakes ports over the course of the summer. The DNR invites the public to check out the vessels in person and talk with the crews.


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