Redefining the Classroom

About the ARL

St. Marys River

The St. Marys River, the sole outlet of Lake Superior, flows eastward approximately 120 km to Lake Huron. The river is a unique and vital transportation, hydrological, and ecological link between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes. Historically, the St. Marys rapids were one of the most productive habitats for fish in the continent, and native fishes including whitefish, northern pike, walleye, lake trout, and lake sturgeon were dominant. Today, salmon and trout comprise the dominant sport fishery in the river. The river also provides suitable habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors such as ospreys, hawks and bald eagles. In 1985 the St. Marys River was designated as an Area of Concern by the US-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Centuries of channel modifications, and industrial and urban development have diminished the river’s ability to support healthy fish and wildlife populations, which limits future human uses of this resource. Lake Superior State University, along with other government and non-governmental organizations, plays an active role in understanding the extent of degradation and implementing conservation and rehabilitation strategies to improve the health of the St. Marys River.

History of the ARL

Lake Superior State University’s Aquatic Research Laboratory (ARL) is an off-campus research and educational facility situated on the St. Marys River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  The ARL was established in 1977 when Lake Superior State University (LSSU) began a cooperative venture with Edison Sault Electric Company (ESE) to establish an off-campus research laboratory in the quarter-mile long hydroelectric plant located on the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  Two main environmental concerns were to be addressed: sustainability of local fish populations and water quality of the St. Marys River.  Initially, research conducted at the ARL was focused on developing aquaculture techniques for economically important Great Lakes fishes (e.g., whitefish) and monitoring water quality in the St. Marys River.  Initial funding was provided by ESE and LSSU.  In 1984, the ARL began a partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MIDNR) Fisheries Division to produce Atlantic salmon for release into the St. Marys River in an attempt to create a highly sought after sport fishery.  The ARL has reared and stocked an average of 40,000 yearlings annually, and has made great strides in bringing a premier salmon fishery to the upper Great Lakes.  More recently, the ARL began rearing coaster brook trout in hopes of aiding future efforts to restore coaster populations in tributaries of the Great Lakes.

Today, the Atlantic salmon rearing program continues at the ARL, but activities have evolved and broadened to create additional educational, scientific, and outreach opportunities for LSSU biology students, scientific researchers, and the local community.  Research at the ARL expanded into other areas of freshwater science including reproductive biology of fishes, ecological genetics, environmental chemistry, and ecological assessments.  Research collaborations and external funding support have increased dramatically over the years.  Past project partners and funding agencies include National Science Foundation,  Michigan Sea Grant, Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, US Forest Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service, Canadian Forest Service, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Purdue University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan, and the University of Notre Dame.  Non-governmental groups, such as sportsman’s associations, and private donors also provide financial support. The ARL continues to represent a unique collaboration between academic, government, industrial, and community partners dedicated to the natural resources of the Upper Great Lakes region. In 2010 the Cloverland Electric Cooperative acquired the Edison Sault Electric Company and is committed to supporting the mission of the ARL. The emphasis of the laboratory continues to be on providing LSSU students valuable learning and work experiences along with research opportunities. Access to the lab facility, equipment and support staff directly benefits students enrolled in fisheries, limnology, biology, environmental science and toxicology courses at LSSU. The lab typically employs 10-12 students during the academic year, and 2-4 students during the summer. Many senior research theses, a requirement for graduation, are conducted each year either at the lab or in conjunction with its staff.


The ARL’s nearly 30 years of achievements justify the need for continued support from the LSSU community to ensure its future.  Cloverland Electric has donated a building on the west end of the hydroelectric plant to the University.  The future location of the ARL is substantially larger (16,000 sq. ft. versus 3,500 sq. ft.) and possesses a much improved infrastructure compared to the current facility.  The proposed improvements will meet the ARL’s current and future research and educational needs by addressing the following limitations of the current facility:

  • modern research space to expand and separate laboratory facilities including a wet lab for sample preparation, a clean-up facility, flow-through experimental mesocosms, analytical equipment, and optics facilities
  • fish health laboratory to process fish samples for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  • additional raceway for fish rearing; ability to quarantine fish
  • visitor center with displays highlighting regional ecosystems (including animals of the Great Lakes) and ongoing ARL hatchery and research activities
  • classroom space for university courses school groups, summer programs, public meetings, and outreach programs
  • space to house an upper Great Lakes region fish collection
  • access to high-speed data capabilities which will increase data accessibility and enable real-time data display of water quality information and underwater video on the internet
  • additional office space (separate from laboratory facilities) for the directors, laboratory manager, students, and visiting scientists
  • an elevator to enable equipment transport to upper levels and access to disabled students, visiting scientists, and the public (this will meet ADA compliance)
  • on-site water and sewer connections, including restroom facilities, with specially designed heating, ventilation and air-conditioning which will allow the ARL to do research and teach year-round
  • space to expand community outreach programs, including office space for the St. Marys Bi-National Public Advisory Council (BPAC) office (

Completion of the LSSU Aquatic Research Laboratory renovation (click here to see a 3D animation of the proposed renovation) will enable the ARL to increase partnerships within the university, local community, and upper Great Lakes region.  The renovated facility will integrate student training, research opportunities, and community awareness by partnering with local and international agencies to establish a year-round center of education and research on the upper Great Lakes ecosystems.   We ask for your support to continue the ARL tradition of fostering excellence in education, science, and community service. To donate, please click here (specify gift is for the Aquatic Research Lab) or mail a check to LSSU Aquatic Research Laboratory, 650 W. Easterday Avenue, Sault Sainte Marie, MI 49783.