Program and People News

New ROV Offers Insight Into Old Shipwreck

Researchers from Woods Hole examine images of the Senator captured by a new ROV able to operate at greater depths.

In June, frequent Wisconsin Sea Grant collaborators/Maritime Archaeologists Tamara Thomsen and Catlin Zant teamed with Crossmon Consulting and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to use a state-of-the-art remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to capture the first-ever clear images of the S.S. Senator, a wreck that sank in 1929 in 450-plus feet of water east of Port Washington.

Thomsen was part of the team that used a standard ROV and multibeam sonar imagery to get a rough sense of the Senator’s location back in 2015. The new ROV offered much more detail. 

The Senator was outfitted to carry automobiles on deck and within her hold between Milwaukee and Detroit. On Halloween day in 1929 — the same week as the Black Tuesday stock market crash — the 4,048-ton steel carrier got caught in a dense fog, colliding with another carrier called the Marquette. The Senator split in two and sank, along with the 268 Nash automobiles it was carrying. The deckload of cars ended up in the sand aft of the vessel’s stern, but the cars within the ship’s hull appear to remain lashed down in place.

“Cars were still down there inside the vessel,” said Thomsen. “This gave us the opportunity to examine what really happened in the S.S.Senator’s final moments; moments that took the lives of nine of her crew.”

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Tori's Back

As in Tori Kiefer, the student who served as Wisconsin Sea Grant’s first ever maritime archaeology fellow in the summer of 2016. Kiefer helped lead a field school of East Carolina University students in a survey of the shipwreck Atlanta. Kiefer also composed the successful nomination of the Atlanta to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society offering permanent positions to Tamara Thomsen and Caitlin Zant, maritime archaeologists and longtime funded researchers with Wisconsin Sea Grant, salary dollars were available to bring Kiefer back for the second part of the research project, a field survey of the tugboat Arctic. She’ll stay through the end of 2017. 

Careful Management Could Be the Cure

Backed by Wisconsin Sea Grant, Tony Goldberg, a UW-Madison professor of epidemiology, created a quick and accurate test for viral hemhorragic septicemia virus (VHSV, a deadly disease that attacks the internal organs of fish populations, leading to bloody and unsightly fish kills). Over the past year, Goldberg and his research team have taken the test into the rivers and streams of Wisconsin, from the Apostle Islands to Janesville and the Wisconsin-Illinois border, trying to track the virus’s locations and movement among fish populations. The goal? Developing an effective management strategy to contain — or even eliminate — VHSV.

“If we catch wildlife diseases early, there’s a lot we can do about them,” said Goldberg. “There’s a window where you can intervene and be adaptive and smart and prevent or even get rid of some diseases with really careful management. VHSV will not be the last fish disease to plague Wisconsin. If we do this exercise and are effective with it, we have a test case, an action plan for the future.”     

Improving the Toolbox

For years, fish ecologists have used a specific type of nitrogen isotope to determine what’s known as a fish’s trophic position — i.e., its place in the greater food web. Backed by Wisconsin Sea Grant, a team led by UW-Madison Professor of Zoology Jake Vander Zanden has discovered a more powerful tool that not only allows researchers to map the modern Great Lakes food web but could also help determine what it looked like 100 years ago.

The new method involves focusing on amino acids that carry a constant trophic discrimination factor, giving researchers both a clear starting baseline and a definitive means of determining which species are eating and being eaten by each other.

“When we think about restoring the Great Lakes, we think about bringing it back to a historical or desirable condition,” said Vander Zanden. “When we talk about the historical condition, which is often the target, we’re completely blind. It’s really important to know that.”   

Rule-Changing Quaggas Lead to New Research

A collaborative research project about the impacts of quagga mussels in Lake Michigan has led to more funding for the issue from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The original project, jointly supported by the Wisconsin and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant programs during 2012-14 looked at the effects of this invasive mussel in the deep parts of Lake Michigan on plankton abundance, the phosphorus cycle and water movement.

The new project is being funded by the Biological Oceanography and Physical Oceanography divisions of NSF for more than $1 million in expectation that the results will be useful for understanding conditions in other large lakes, and coastal areas as well.

The principal investigators are Harvey Bootsma and Qian Liao with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Cary Troy with Purdue University. David Cannon is a Ph.D. student working on the project at Purdue.

In the original project, the team discovered that quagga mussels in Lake Michigan are eating more plankton than the amount that is reaching them by sinking from above. How and why this could happen is what they’ll be looking at with the new project.

“We think that food delivery to the bottom of the lake is not just determined by the passive settling of phytoplankton as it’s sinking through the water, but that plankton is always being circulated in the lake,” said Bootsma.  “It’s like the plankton are on a kind of conveyor belt where they’re going up and down.”

The researchers also found that the mussels are changing the phosphorus cycle in the lake. “The nutrient-loading models used to set limits for phosphorus aren’t accurate anymore because of these new components to the ecosystem – bottom-dwelling filter feeders,” Bootsma said. “They have changed the rules for how Lake Michigan works.”

“Lake managers have a conundrum right now. They’ve got too much algae in the nearshore zone and they want to reduce phosphorus to solve that problem. But there’s not enough phytoplankton in the offshore zone because of the mussels. So if they reduce phosphorus loading in the lake, they could make that offshore problem even worse so that there’s virtually no food left out there for the rest of the food web,” Bootsma said.

With the new project, Bootsma said his team hopes to determine what the “sweet spot” is for phosphorus loading. “There may not be one perfect phosphorus load that solves both the nearshore and offshore problem, but we’d like to try and find one that minimizes the nuisance algae while at the same time keeps the offshore animals alive with enough plankton production.”

The NSF project will start this spring. “Although we’re focusing on Lake Michigan, the work has implications for most of the other Great Lakes as well as other lakes in general that are being invaded by mussels,” Bootsma said. “We’re looking at a fundamental change in the way lakes work, and that’s the kind of thing the NSF is interested in.”

“It's generally accepted that the ecosystems of smaller, shallower lakes — Lake Erie, for example — are at the greatest risk of quagga mussel invasion,” Cannon added. “Our results could help show other researchers that the effects of mussels on large, deep lakes cannot be ignored and, more importantly, how they can be accounted for.”

By Marie Zhuikov and Irene Miles

Hurley Honored

James Hurley, director of Wisconsin Sea Grant, and Terry White, second district supervisor of Douglas County, were honored in April by the Lake Superior National Estuarine Research Reserve and its Research Advisory Board (RAB).

Both Hurley and White were recognized with outstanding achievement awards for their support of the reserve by Director Erika Washburn.

“Jim was a primary driver in the reserve nomination, site selection and designation process,” Washburn said. “He was a major contributor to the mission and visioning process for the reserve. He is a consummate collaborator and advocated for the reserve in both Washington D.C. and Madison.”

White has been a member of the RAB since 2015. In that short time, he has had major impacts on the remodeling process for the reserve’s learning center on Barker’s Island, and he has contributed to reserve programming.

But, Wait: Now How Much Would You Pay?  

Wisconsin Sea Grant researcher quantifies the value of Lake Michigan sports fisheries

Wisconsin anglers remain willing to pay a significant amount of money for a successful recreational fishing trip on Lake Michigan, but the amount varies based on the type of fish species in question.

That’s one of several takeaways from research conducted by Daniel Phaneuf, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of agricultural and applied and economics and UW-Madison graduate student Jennifer Raynor. Their work, supported by Wisconsin Sea Grant, represents the latest quantification of the economic value of Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan sports fisheries—and the potential value of certain fish species to the anglers.

Over the course of the 2016 fishing season, Phaneuf and Raynor distributed surveys to licensed anglers. The surveys included a choice experiment designed to get fishers to rank different types of trip configurations, based on trip cost, the type and size of fish involved and how many of that fish they’d likely catch. For instance, anglers were asked if they would pay $100 for a trip that resulted in catching two medium-sized lake trout, or if they would not take a trip at all under those conditions.

“We wanted people to think about the different attributes of recreation trips, as well as the tradeoffs they’d have to make to enjoy each,” explained Phaneuf. 

Based on Phaneuf and Raynor’s findings, a Wisconsin angler would be willing to pay an average of $140 dollars for a successful Lake Michigan trip that targeted Chinook salmon. Switch the fish to lake trout, a species that typically offers less resistance to being caught, and the average amount anglers were willing to pay dropped to $90. Those dollar amounts include everything from travel expenses to charter-trip costs.

“One big thing we can learn from this is that several species can generate economic value,” said Phaneuf. “That raises the question: Because of biological vulnerabilities with salmon and lake trout, what other fisheries could generate value?”

The responses indicated that one big possibility is walleye, a species Phaneuf and Raynor also included in the survey. Respondents indicated that on average, they’d be willing to pay $180 for a successful, walleye-based fishing trip.  

“Economics is all about tradeoffs,” said Phaneuf. “If salmon declines, can walleye take its place?

To come up with total dollar values, Phaneuf used creel survey data collected by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to gauge the number of fishing trips actually taken by anglers in Wisconsin each year. From the most recent set of data, Phaneuf was able to multiply the number of trips by the survey results to estimate that Lake Michigan fishing trips for Chinook salmon generated $32 million in 2016, while lake trout trips produced $8 million and walleye trips $33 million.

Those numbers offer ample evidence that Wisconsin anglers value and use Lake Michigan fisheries.

“We’re used to thinking about the economic value of market activity,” said Phaneuf. “But it’s equally valid for non-market commodities like fishing trips. It reminds us that environmental resources do generate economic value, and this value should be considered in policy debates.”

Phaneuf and Raynor’s numbers are likely to be of key interest to state fisheries managers, who can potentially use them to guide their management decision and resource distribution. Given that the populations of native and non-native species are affected by everything from invasive species and environmental degradation to changes in state budget and policy, they could be especially valuable.

“It’s helpful to understand that people’s preferences are important in managing fisheries,” says Raynor, a New York native who’s working on a Ph.D. in agricultural and applied economics. “There’s obviously a difference between considering the human dimension and managing for ecological purity.”

Phaneuf is hoping to follow up his Lake Michigan work with a more sophisticated analysis that examines how anglers’ values and preferences are changing over time. He will be adding data from Canada and the other Great Lakes.

“Looking back in time, there’s variation in the number of trips people took, as well as the number of fish they caught,” he said. “For instance, this means economic value was different when the salmon stock was higher than it is today.”

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