Redefining the Classroom

Fish Culture and Rearing

Lake Superior State University and the Cloverland Electric Cooperative, in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), have been making great strides to introduce Atlantic salmon, one of the world's premier sportfish, into the St. Marys River and upper Great Lakes region. Since 1987, an average of 40,000 yearling Atlantic salmon have been reared and stocked by the LSSU Aquatic Research Laboratory (ARL) annually. Returns of spawning adult Atlantic salmon to the St. Marys River have been better than many had originally imagined. Just one year after stocking, returning two-year-old fish, with an average weight of 2.5 pounds, were being caught directly behind the ARL facility. In addition, three- and four-year-olds, weighing between 8 and 18 pounds, are now being caught by lucky anglers.

To help the ARL keep records of the Atlantic salmon program, successful anglers should bring their fish directly to the ARL or MDNR. If they are not able to do so, the ARL staff request that the angler email or phone (906-635-1949) the following information to the lab manager: (1) length and weight of the fish; (2) location of catch; (3) date of capture; and (4) tag type. Fish tagged prior to 1999 will have an adipose fin clip and contain a microtag in the snout (we request that the head is removed and taken to the ARL or MDNR office) and fish tagged during 1999 or later will have a fin clip. In addition, the ARL requests that the angler remove some scales and dorsal fin rays, place them in an envelope, and send or deliver them to the ARL for subsequent fish aging.

Through previous information taken from anglers who have returned tags and reported their catches of Atlantic salmon, the ARL staff have determined that the fish seem to migrate to southern Lake Huron, before returning to the St. Marys River. Interestingly, Atlantic salmon released from the ARL have been caught in all the Great Lakes, including Lake Ontario below Niagara Falls. Atlantic salmon begin showing up near Detour, at the mouth of the sixty-mile long St. Marys River, in late May and early June. Best fishing near Sault Ste. Marie is from mid-June through July, although experienced anglers find success well into fall. This species spawns in late fall, typically late October or early November as water temperature declines below 50`F. Unlike the Pacific salmonids, Atlantic salmon do not die after spawning. Atlantic salmon are very similar to brown trout Salmo trutta in appearance. Atlantic salmon typically have a shorter maxillary (upper jaw), less square tail, and are more streamlined (torpedo shaped) than brown trout. Distinguishing Atlantic salmon from some Pacific salmonids (chinook, coho, and pink) is relatively easy as Atlantic salmon contain large, black spots on the operculum (gill cover) and cheek; the other three species lack these spots. Although steelhead/rainbow trout have these same spots, they contain much more profuse spotting (numerous and small) on the body and tail (Atlantic salmon contain few spots and those present are larger and often "x" shaped). Further aiding identification is that all Atlantic salmon released by the ARL will have a fin clip. Therefore, if an angler thinks that the fish he/she has caught is an Atlantic salmon and the fish is missing a fin, it is very likely that it is an Atlantic salmon. Anglers are asked to bring their fish to the ARL for positive identification.

The fish hatchery at the Aquatic Research Laboratory is staffed by a year-round, full-time lab manager, Mr. Roger Greil, and ten to twelve LSSU students during the year. By hiring student workers, the ARL provides a unique, hands-on learning environment that is not afforded to students at most other institutions of higher learning. Further, many students interested in pursuing a career in fisheries biology and management or fish culture conduct their senior thesis research projects at the ARL in conjunction with ongoing research projects or using ARL equipment and facilities.