Tracking Ghost Nets, Part Two

A new NOAA grant funds more outreach—this time, to a different stakeholder group. 

Steve Humblet was just trolling along in the waters of Lake Superior near Long Point when it happened.

“Both of my new electric downriggers and poles started swaying,” Humblet recalled. “I pretty quickly realized I didn’t have a big fish, but I didn’t know what the heck I had hit. I fought with it for half an hour.”

What he had hit was a ghost net — a gill net that had torn loose from its moorings and eventually drifted into the path of Humblet’s motor, fouling it badly. Gill nets are used by commercial and tribal fishermen for larger hauls.

“At first, I was mad at myself for running through a net,” said Humblet, who thought he had somehow missed some warning floats. “And then I took a closer look.”

What he saw was a line of floats on the surface extending out nearly 300 feet, with the rest of the net wrapped around his downrigger, with lots of bait and debris still stuck in it. He realized he hadn’t run into the net; the net had run into him.

Luckily, Humblet had heard about an educational video co-produced in 2015 by Wisconsin Sea Grant, the Apostle Island Sportsfishermen’s Association (AISA) and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), instructing boaters on what to do if their vessel became entangled in a ghost net. He contacted the Coast Guard and a friend in the AISA. About an hour later, he had extricated his boat, losing only the cannonball and flasher from his downrigger in the process.

Humblet’s story is the textbook example of how the ghost net education and outreach campaign, fueled by a NOAA Marine Debris Outreach and Education Grant, is supposed to work. And it points up the need for continued outreach: Since the project began, it’s estimated that at least 5,000 feet of ghost net have been removed from the waters of Lake Superior alone.

Luckily, that education and outreach will continue. The current grant has been extended through April 2017 and will fund another educational workshop for boaters and anglers, outreach at the Upper Peninsula Sport Show, and the development of a second educational video, this one aimed at the groups that set the gill nets, detailing the proper methods to ensure that the net doesn’t become unmoored during installation, and that it doesn’t break apart and drift away as it’s being removed from the water.

The bigger and better news is that the partnership has been awarded a 2017 NOAA Marie Debris Removal Grant to continue the campaign.

“It’s interesting—we’ve come full circle,” said Titus Seilheimer, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s fisheries outreach specialist and a lead on the project. “A lot of what we had prepared initially when we first began talking about doing this project is coming back in the scope of this second grant.”

Specifically, the new grant will fund the development of a net-marking kit that anglers can carry to make identifying, marking and reporting ghost nets to the proper authorities easier and more accurate.  As part of the grant, GLFWC will also receive high-resolution sonar equipment and underwater optics that will help locate ghost nets once they’ve been reported. Funding will also be provided to the Wisconsin DNR to cover expenses related to ghost net removal.

“That’s a vital piece of this,” said Seilheimer. “They can go right to the location and pull it out.” 

To view the video "Avoid the Trap: What Anglers Should Know about Commercial Fishing Nets," visit https://youtu.be/8OKxHK0JfxY

Green Infrastructure Guide

Trying to plant a rain garden in a community space? Want to control stormwater runoff in a way that is both effective and beautiful? How about designing a green roof for a new construction or improving stormwater runoff in existing parking lots?

All too frequently, green infrastructure practices — methods of controlling stormwater that use the natural capacities of soil and vegetation — are discouraged or even actively prohibited by outdated, poorly worded or ambiguous local codes and ordinances.

Since 2012, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin has worked with 28 municipalities in southeastern Wisconsin to audit, revise and prioritize codes and ordinances that deter and prohibit the more widespread use of green infrastructure. To help replicate this approach and facilitate the development of strategic code and ordinance revisions for green infrastructure in other communities, Wisconsin Sea Grant, with support from the NOAA Coastal Storms Program, developed the Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure: An Audit of Local Codes and Ordinances workbook.

What makes this project unique in comparison to similar audits is the “no judgement” approach to working with municipalities. Barriers to green infrastructure can vary widely within the code language — specific rights, specific prohibitions, partial limits, practices mentioned with no guidelines for implementation, etc. Therefore, solutions to code barriers need to be customized for the specific municipality and cannot be satisfactorily addressed by model ordinances.

The workbook, Tackling Barriers to Green Infrastructure, consists of three main steps — community scoping, auditing community codes and ordinances, and prioritizing recommendations and developing a strategy for adoption.

Julia Noordyk, water quality and coastal communities outreach specialist for Wisconsin Sea Grant, was a co-editor on the project with Kate Morgan, former water policy director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Noordyk says, “We realized that cooperation among municipal zoning and planning departments, non-profit groups, planners, consultants and other local groups was key. Evaluating how green infrastructure fits within a municipality’s context — the regional culture, pattern of development and specific challenges regarding water quality or quantity — is crucial to successfully overcoming code barriers. The community scoping section of the project reflects that need.”

After the scoping worksheet, the audit provides a comprehensive series of questions to ask about local codes and ordinances. Using the provided grading matrix, users will select a grade in response to each question, based on whether a code, policy or operation is enabled, conditional, discouraged or conflicted with regards to green infrastructure. The results, along with suggestions from the workbook, can be used to identify critical barriers and determine how best to resolve them.

Noordyk says, “This project builds capacity and brings technical assistance for this work at a time when local governments are facing restricted budgets and reductions in personnel.”

The guide also contains a wealth of examples, references and definitions. Available at seagrant.wisc.edu/greeninfrastructure.


When Lampreys Attack

Despite close attention by fishery managers, the lake trout population in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior has been declining in the past decade or so. Recently, this led to emergency limits on the number of lake trout that can be harvested by anglers and commercial and tribal fishermen in Wisconsin waters of the lake.

In an effort to get a better handle on population stressors so that more accurate fishing quotas can be set, fishery managers are looking at a variety of factors that might stress this important population. One of those things are attacks by sea lamprey – the eely vampire of the fisheries world.

Lake trout deaths by lamprey rank behind those from commercial fishing, natural causes and angling, but it’s long been assumed that lamprey-attack survivors suffer from impaired growth and reproduction rates. Even though it is estimated that more than 50 percent of lake trout attacked by lamprey survive, effects on survivors have not been studied in the lab.

Tyler Firkus, a fish and wildlife Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University (MSU), plans to change that. However, first he has a few obstacles to overcome for this unique project. For instance: how to catch lamprey that are in the relatively short feeding stage of their life cycle, how to keep the lamprey alive until they can be introduced to lake trout, and how to expose the trout to lamprey parasitism just long enough so that it’s not lethal.

“It’s a major project with a lot of moving parts,” Firkus said. “There’s different hurdles and different things that keep popping up because nobody’s ever done this before.”

Firkus is conducting his research at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility (UWSP NADF), a Wisconsin Sea Grant partner organization located in Red Cliff, Wis.

As for catching the lamprey, Firkus is getting help from commercial fishermen in the Bayfield area and from the Hammond Bay Biological Station in Michigan, which specializes in lamprey collection and research. So far, he has about 20 lamprey in the feeding stage, with hopes of capturing 30 to 40 total.

After the lamprey are removed, he plans to study a number of physical parameters of the fish over the long term. These include growth, reproduction and immune response. He will divide his time between UWSP NADF and MSU depending on whether he needs to collect data, process data or teach.

“The data will be an important tool to refine current physiological and bioenergetics models to better predict how sublethal sea lamprey attacks can affect the lake trout population,” said Greg Fischer, UWSP NADF operations manager. “The information will be vital for proper management strategies in all the Great Lakes.”

Funding for the project is coming from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. 

Atlantic Salmon on the Horizon

Aquaculture in Wisconsin and North America

Greg Fischer, facility operations manager for the University of Stevens-Point Northern Aquaculture Demonstration Facility (UWSP NADF), has seen the future of aquaculture in Wisconsin and North America, and it contains platefuls of delicious Atlantic salmon.

Fischer and UWSP NADF are working with partners in Washington state, West Virginia and Wisconsin to get U.S.-grown and farmed salmon onto people’s dinner tables. Most of the Atlantic salmon produced for food is imported from Chile, Norway, Scotland and Canada.

The Washington company that NADF has been working with, Riverance, plans to develop a U.S. source for all-female Atlantic salmon eggs for the aquaculture industry. Currently, only a few sources for these eggs exist. (Female eggs are preferred because female fish grow faster.) For several years in their facility in Red Cliff, Wis., NADF has been rearing a special strain of salmon called Cascades for Riverance, working in partnership with the Freshwater Institute in West Virginia.

Emma Wiermaa, NADF and Wisconsin Sea Grant aquaculture outreach specialist, explained that the salmon were domesticated fish originally bred for net pen aquaculture in salt water. “We raised them in a freshwater recirculation system, and they are doing really well in fresh water. Their growth just exploded,” she said.

At up to 40 pounds apiece, these spotted leviathans are so huge, they’ve broken the nets used to transfer them during spawning operations. The fish are four to five years old and are currently spawning for the second time.

“This is the last remaining population of the Cascade strain in the world that we are aware of, and we believe it’s the future for food fish for Atlantic salmon,” Wiermaa said. “We take really good care of these fish; we give them top quality feed and check their water quality frequently.”

Fischer said that because of their work with Riverance, NADF has another partner in Wisconsin that is building up their business. The company is called Superior Fresh, and they are constructing an aquaponics facility near Eau Claire, Wis.

“They’re establishing one of the first on-land, sustainable, Atlantic salmon and aquaponics facilities built in North America,” Fischer said. “It’s unlike any of the other ones we’ve seen so far. They will have very little water discharge. It will be a great showcase to demonstrate how other facilities could be built around the country and also here in Wisconsin.”

“The investment that’s been put forward to get these fish into Wisconsin is probably the largest we’ve seen for food fish aquaculture in over 10 years,” Fischer said. “These projects really show the future and where aquaculture is headed. It’s kind of neat to see it coming.”

The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

©2011 University of Wisconsin Board of Regents