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Entries in Great Lakes (136)

Sunday
Feb122017

Tons of Plastic Degrade Great Lakes, Potentially Harmful to Fish, Widlife 

Nearly 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes annually from the United States and Canada, according to a recent study by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

"This study is the first picture of the true scale of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes," said Matthew Hoffman, an assistant professor in mathematics and the lead author of "Inventory and Transport of Plastic Debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes."

Hoffman used computer simulations to follow the volume of plastic debris moving across both state and international boundaries, with nearly half going into Lake Michigan. Lake Erie followed a distant second with 5.5 million pounds, while Lake Ontario had 3 million, Lake Huron 1.3, and Lake Superior the least at about 70,000 pounds.

To put that into perspective, annual pollution in Lake Michigan is the equivalent of 100 Olympic-size pools full of plastic bottles, while that for Ontario equates to about 28.

While bottles and other plastic pollution accumulate in gigantic "garbage patches" in the oceans, winds and currents mostly carry them to shore in the Great Lakes.

"Plastic accounts for approximately 80 percent of the litter on the shorelines of the Great Lakes," RIT said in announcing the report. "The study quantifies dense plastic that quickly sinks and surface plastics like microbeads, fragments and pellets, plastic line, and Styrofoam, which could be consumed by wildlife and potentially enter the food chain."

Estimates of these tiny plastic particles floating or suspended in the lakes range from nearly 10,000 pounds in Erie to 436 pounds in Superior.

"We know some of the plastic sinks. But when we input the numbers, this is the amount that's floating near the surface," Hoffman said, adding that these microplastics are most likely to end up in fish and other aquatic life. "But we also don't know a lot about what happens to the plastic that doesn't float and where it ends up."

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Superior warned that these pollutants could pose a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems in 2013. And both the United States and Canada are working toward stopping production and sale of personal care products that contain tiny plastic beads, which wash down drains, pass unfiltered through treatment plants and enter the Great Lakes and other waterways.

Not surprisingly, Hoffman and his team revealed that major population centers are the primary sources of pollution, with Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, and Detroit releasing more plastics than accumulate on their adjoining shorelines.

"Most of the particles from Chicago and Milwaukee end up accumulating on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, while the particles from Detroit and Cleveland end up along the southern coast of the eastern basin of Lake Erie," Hoffman said. "Particles released from Toronto appear to accumulate on the southern coast of Lake Ontario, including around Rochester and Sodus Bay."

Thursday
Feb092017

Asian Carp Spawning Closer to Great Lakes

Asian carp have moved no closer to the Great Lakes during the past few years. They remain about 50 miles away. But they are spawning closer, and that's bad news.

"The bottom line is that the juvenile front is advancing, and made a big jump last year," said Joel Brammeier of the non-profit Alliance for the Great Lakes. "And we still don't have a permanent solution in place that's going to solve the problem."

That "big jump" was 90 miles.

Two electrical barriers and three locks and dams on the canal/river system serve as the final protection for Lake Michigan. Thus far, they have effectively blocked adult silver and bighead carp. But the smaller ones are much more likely to slip through in the wake of commercial barge traffic, which also can disrupt the effectiveness of the barriers.

"It seems like the wolves are at the door, and the door is still opening and closing," said Daniel O'Keefe of Michigan Sea Grant.

Meanwhile, a third electrical barrier is being constructed upstream of the other two, which are about 35 miles south of Lake Michigan. Intent is to make it more effective against juvenile fish, according to Charles Wooley, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Great Lakes Region.

"There are no fish that are probing these electrical barriers on a daily basis," he added. "The closest these fish are is about 15 to 20 miles downstream, and that leading edge hasn't really changed much in the past five or six years."

 

Wednesday
Jan182017

New Invader in Great Lakes: Thermocyclops Crassus

It's not much to look at. In fact, it's impossible to see without a microscope.

But for the first time in a decade, an exotic aquatic species has been found in the Great Lakes. That makes 185 or 186  non-native species, depending on who's counting, now established in the basin. Some, including the lamprey and alewife, migrated up the St. Lawrence Seaway, but most, including the zebra mussel as well as this latest, probably were introduced via ballast water from ocean-going ships.

Thermocyclops crassus, a type of zooplankton, was discovered in water samples taken from Lake Erie by limnology technician Joe Connolly of Cornell University.

“It’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Connolly said. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t something we’d seen before.”

He found both male and female specimens in low numbers, but enough to say that an established population exists of the invertebrate that is native to Europe, Asia, and Australia. Officials from both the U.S. and Canada have planned more sampling to determine how widespread this new invader is and what its impact may be.

 “We don’t know enough yet about what this species could or could not do in the Great Lakes,” said Elizabeth Hinchey Malloy, an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Size isn't an indicator of impact, as the zebra mussel, a fingernail-sized shellfish, and the round goby, a small bottom-dwelling fish, have proven.

Confirmed in 2006, the bloody red shrimp was the last previously discovered invader. It now swarms in excess of 135 individuals per square foot.

"The impact of this species on the Great Lakes is yet unknown, but based on its history of invasion across Europe, significant impacts are possible," said Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. "The bloody red shrimp is an omnivore. Its diet includes waterfleas and algae. They may compete with young fish, while providing food for larger fish. The invasion of this species in some European reservoirs has been documented to accelerate silica cycling, resulting in blooms of diatoms and, in some cases, plating out of silica onto pipes."

Monday
Aug292016

Will You Stand Up for the Future of Fishing?

As a kid, I didn’t just love to fish.

I lived to fish.

Over the years --- and usually fishing --- I’ve met many who felt the same way about their childhood.

Reading comments on Facebook and in fishing forums, I can see that many adults never outgrow that feeling. That’s good.

In fact, the world would be a better place if more people felt that way.

I’m not talking about forsaking a family, giving up a job, and throwing away responsibility to go fishing 24/7. I’m talking about recognizing the value of fishing for relaxation, enjoyment of nature, and as a dangling carrot to get you from Monday to Friday. I’m talking about time spent with children and grandchildren that allows you to share knowledge and experience, as well as pass on the passion for a wholesome activity that has brought you so much happiness.

Sadly, many who do not fish are rising to power in all levels of government. They come from a background that says preservation --- look but don’t touch --- is better than conservation --- sustainable use of a resource through good stewardship. Some are adamantly anti-fishing, with close ties to extreme environmental groups. Others simply give no thought or value to recreational fishing and would consider its demise an acceptable loss for implementation of their agendas.

What can be we about this? Well, we could take them fishing. That really is the best solution. But we might have to abduct some of them to get them out of their cubicles, and that could get complicated and messy and charges might be filed.

The alternative is to organize and stand strong for recreational fishing. I know, I know: Fishing is your escape from things like organizing and standing strong. It takes you back to childhood, when living to fish was pure and uncomplicated.

I understand and respect that feeling. But I also know that neglecting to defend what you love against an overzealous enemy is the surest way to lose it.

The irony is that those of us who fish --- about 40 million annually --- far outnumber those who would take it away. But the latter are committed to a preservationist agenda, while we who fish are committed to fishing more than we are protecting our right to fish.

Or at least that’s the way that it has been.

“We’re the biggest recreational sporting group in the country, but we’ve hardly been organized enough to tie our shoes,” said Bob Eakes, owner of Red Drum Tackle in Buxton, N.C.

Eakes and his business were among the first casualties in this war against recreational fishing, where many of the early volleys are being fired at saltwater anglers. Under the guise of protecting birds and turtles, the National Park Service (NPS) elected to side with three environmental groups and shut down access to nearly half of the world-famous surf fishery at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The battle to reclaim that fishery is still going on, but there’s no doubt that the NPS is no friend to recreational fishermen.

“Twenty-one national parks are waiting to see how this plays out,” Eakes explained. “And we’re starting to see issues in freshwater as well.”

On inland fisheries thus far, recreational fishing is being attacked mostly by groups who want to ban lead fishing tackle and associations and municipalities who use concerns about the spread of invasive species to shut down access.

But more is on the way. By executive order, the federal National Ocean Council can decide where you can and cannot fish on oceans, coastal waters, and the Great Lakes, and it has the authority to extend its reach inland to rivers and lakes.

That’s why your support for Keep America Fishing is so vitally needed. “No one has been trumpeting the message that the public’s right to fish is at stake. But with Keep America Fishing (KAF), we now have a way to do that,” said Eakes.

Garnering more than 43,000 messages of opposition from anglers, KAF helped defeat an attempt to impose a national ban on lead fishing tackle a few years ago.

Go there to learn about the issues, get involved, and make a donation.

Sunday
Aug212016

Grass Carp Invasion Also Threatens Great Lakes Fisheries

Most don't know one carp from another. All are exotic.The photo above is a 30-pound-plus grass carp illegally stocked in a small lake.

Common carp have been in this country for so long (more than a century) that many think they are native. They are not. They were imported by the federal government. Rooting around on the bottom, they have destroyed and degraded many fisheries.

Fish farms in the South and Mid-South imported Asian carp (bighead and silver), and they escaped into rivers, spreading throughout much of the country. Through filter feeding, they gobble up forage needed by many native species, including juvenile sport species.

Grass carp were imported to eat problematic aquatic plants, including hydrilla and Eurasian watermilfoil, also exotic species. Often they were overstocked. Sometimes. they were stocked where they were not needed. Often they were stocked illegally. And they too have escaped and spread.

To add to the confusion, Canadian media and fisheries officials frequently refer to grass carp as Asian carp.

*    *    *    *

Although silver and bighead are the Asian carp of most concern these days for the Great Lakes and its tributaries,  disturbing discoveries have been made lately regarding a third--- the grass carp.

First, a graduate student at the University of Toledo found eggs in the Sandusky River, which flows into Lake Erie. That confirms the existence of a reproducing population of this fast-growing species, which doesn't compete with native fish, but does obliterate beneficial aquatic vegetation.

Additionally, Canadian commercial fishermen recently netted a grass carp weighing more than 60 pounds from the St. Lawrence River, far above Lake Ontario.

Anthony Ricciardi, a biology professor at McGill University, doesn't think that the river has a reproducing population, but suspects that others are in the St. Lawrence as well.

"We actually thought the Asian carp was confined," added Quebec biologist Michel Legault. "But we know that in recent years the grass carp has been found in a small section of Lake Erie. And last summer, nine grass carp were caught in the Toronto area. This is not good news."

On the Sandusky, meanwhile Toledo researchers intend to learn more about the grass carp spawning there, in hopes of finding a way to minimize it.

"Given the similarities in reproductive strategies, this ongoing research on grass carp spawning may help us minimize the risk of bighead carp and silver carp from establishing a foothold in the Great Lakes, said Patrick Kocovsky, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "What we learn here also might apply to potential control strategies in tributaries to the Mississippi River.

Today, most grass carp used to control invasive aquatic plants are triploid, meaning they can't reproduce. But fertile grass carp are believed to have first escaped from  an aquaculture facility in Arkansas back in the 1960s. They since have migrated throughout the Mississippi River drainage, as well as spread through authorized, illegal, and accidental introductions to 45 of the 50 states.