Redefining the Classroom

Student's St. Mary's River rapids research garners cash award

Posted: May 11th, 2010

CONTACT: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; Leslie Askwith, e-mail, 635-2921.

RESEARCH CASH AWARD – John Lehman of the Sault Naturalists Club presents a $100 cash award to graduating Lake Superior State University biologist Nick Steimel, from Suttons Bay, Mich., for his outstanding research project on fish populations in the St. Mary's rapids. The Sault Naturalists present the award every year for noteworthy natural resources research done in the eastern Lake Superior region by LSSU students. (LSSU/John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Graduating Lake Superior State University student Nick Steimel, from Suttons Bay, Mich., has been named this year’s winner of the Sault Naturalists Research Merit Award. The presentation was made during a public biology and chemistry senior research colloquium on April 17 in LSSU's Crawford Hall of Science.

Steimel was selected for the award by a panel of judges who evaluated research projects in natural history or the environment by interviewing the student researchers and examining their project posters. Steimel studied fish use of the St. Mary's River rapids according to time of year, temperature and rainfall.

The rapids are an important spawning ground for many different fish species, but little is known about the movement of fish into and out of the area. Without this knowledge, it is hard to gauge the effects of outside forces on fish in the rapids. For example, fish populations may suffer as upstream compensating gates that control the level of Lake Superior alter water flow in the rapids.

Steimel collected fish from a screw trap set in the thalweg (deepest channel) of the river at the foot of the rapids. He checked the trap every day between June 13 and Nov. 4, 2009. Steimel found the greatest diversity of fish and/or largest numbers of juvenile fish was in June, late July and early October. Rainbow smelt were the most abundant species caught. Chinook salmon were the second most abundant and left the river at temperatures above 17°C. Logperch were found throughout the time of survey. Based on Steimel's research and ongoing anecdotal evidence, it is almost certain that chinook and pink salmon and steelhead trout are spawning in the rapids as well.

The research produced valuable information for making decisions about when it's better not to disturb the flow of water through the rapids.

“This data can be used to avoid critical times in the rapids such as June, late July and early October when large numbers of juvenile fish are found in the Rapids and/or diversity of fishes was highest," said Steimel in his abstract. "The avoidance of these times should improve the habitat and the future fishery.” Steimel worked on the project with Dr. Geoffrey Steinhart, his major professor, and Roger Greil, manager of LSSU’s Aquatic Research Laboratory (ARL) at the Edison Sault Power Plant. He plans to work for LSSU this summer doing water quality sampling and as a student technician at the ARL.

The Sault Naturalists (SooNats) Club presents a $100 award each year for an outstanding natural resources project by a LSSU student. The club, whose members come from both Michigan and Ontario, is active in environmental advocacy, stewardship, and education, and has participated in planning for national and provincial parks. The group’s goal is to promote the appreciation, preservation, and conservation of our natural heritage. It holds monthly programs and weekly field trips to local areas of natural history interest. The SooNats web site,, reports on the club’s meetings, outings and other topics of interest.

Run a search on the Web for "LSSU fisheries" for more about studying fisheries and wildlife management at Lake State.


This release prepared by Leslie Askwith of the Sault Naturalists Club.

TOOL FOR RAPIDS SURVEY - LSSU Aquatic Research Lab Manager Roger Greil and student Andrew Hageman of Plainwell, Mich., check a "screw trap" set in the St. Mary's River rapids during 2009. The trap was used by student Nick Steimel of Suttons Bay, Mich., to monitor the rapids for fish throughout the summer and into the fall. His research project was deemed the best by a panel of judges, and garnered a cash award from the Sault Naturalists Club during a symposium held on campus this past April. The St. Mary's rapids defines the border between Canada, right, and the United States. (LSSU/John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.