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The Fisheries Management Program is the biological program that is charged with implementing the fisheries management aspects of the 2000 and 2007 Consent Decrees. The program has four programmatic focus areas that are interrelated and all play an important role in protecting and enhancing our member’s ability to access treaty fishing rights: interagency fisheries management, harvest management and assessment, adaptive ecosystem management, and public outreach.

Assessment and Research

Assessments and research are a major activity of this program. Assessments are conducted on the Great Lakes (Superior, Huron, and Michigan) and inland lakes and rivers. In 2019, 22,780 samples were collected and analyzed, almost 17,000 miles driven, and 8,150 structures were studied to determine the fish age.

St Mary’s River Aquatic Invasive Species Survey

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are a primary challenge in maintaining healthy fisheries in the Great Lakes. Established invaders such as Zebra and Quagga Mussels, Spiny Water Flea and Round Goby have caused considerable harm to the ecosystem. Early detection is likely the best method for reducing the number of future invaders. In 2019, the program implemented an AIS monitoring program throughout the St. Mary’s River. The program partnered with US Fish and Wildlife Service and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. In these surveys, over 5,600 fish were caught from 19 different species. No invasive species were detected!

Lake Whitefish Bottleneck Recruitment

Lake whitefish has long been an integral part of Sault Tribe’s history. Due to invasive species, whitefish populations have been drastically reduced throughout much of the Great Lakes. Sault Tribe has been conducting research of the early life stages of whitefish to see if that is where the bottleneck is occurring. A bottleneck is a term used in biology where a population is restricted through a limiting factor. Think of a small hole in a bucket where only a little water gets out rather than pouring the water out from the top and you only have a very short time to get the water out. There is no way for all the water to make it through a small whole in a short time.
The Fisheries Management Program has been conducting beach seine work looking for whitefish during their first 60 days of life and monitoring the conditions at all sites. If conditions are seen (changes in water temperature, predatory invasive fish, nutrient levels, etc.) then Fisheries may be able to narrow down the limiting factors keeping young whitefish from surviving.

Elder Meals Fish Donations

The Fisheries Management Program takes fish caught in assessment surveys to a HACCP certified facility to have the fish processed. This facility fillets, debones, scales/skins, vacuum seals, and flash freezes the fillets. The Fisheries Management Program donates the fillets to Elders Services meal programs. In 2019, 1,036 pounds of filleted fish were donated.

Harvest and Effort Statistics

Fisheries Management Program staff collect harvest reports (inland, subsistence, and commercial), processes and analyzes the information to provide summaries of the harvest and effort. This information plays a critical role in the management of the resource. Not only are summaries of the data important but this data is also used in the models to help produce harvest limits.

Representation and Co-Management

Managing the fishery for two consent decrees requires a lot of representation on committees. Under the 2007 Consent Decree, staff is on the Inland Fisheries Committee. The 2000 Consent Decree is different than the 2007 Consent Decree in that Sault Tribe is a co-manager of the Great Lakes. This puts the tribe on equal footing with the federal government and the state of Michigan. Staff represents the tribe on the Technical Fisheries Committee, Modelling Sub-Committee, Lake Superior Technical Committee, Lake Huron Technical Committee and Lake Michigan Technical Committee, St. Mary’s River Task Group, Lake Huron Lake Sturgeon Working Group and others.

Fisheries Enhancement

In addition to the assessment activities, the Fisheries operates a fisheries enhancement program. This program has operated for nearly 30 years and has mainly raised walleye to stock into waters of the 1836 ceded territory. In this time span, the hatcheries have stocked over 14 million walleye. In 2019 alone, over 900,000 walleye were raised. These fish were stocked at location in Lakes Superior, Huron (including the St. Mary’s River) and Michigan.

Lake Whitefish Experimental Rearing

The Fisheries Management Program conducts an experimental project to rear whitefish. This project is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and its goal is to rear whitefish to learn the best process to raise them in case research shows that large scale stocking could help the whitefish population.

In November 2018, whitefish brood stock was collected from Lake Huron. These fish were spawned out at the Nunns Creek Fisheries Enhancement Facility. The eggs were hatched out on site and the fish were raised all winter and into the summer. These fish were raised using multiple methods to look at the feasibility of rearing whitefish to different sizes and life stages. This project is working closely with the Whitefish Bottleneck Project. If the Fisheries Program can figure out at what life stage whitefish are reaching that bottleneck then it may be able to rear whitefish past that bottleneck in order to make sure they survive. This project will continue into 2020.

Current work includes continuing the Whitefish Recruitment Bottleneck Project, building on to already established assessment and commercial sampling, Improving existing gillnet surveys, continuing and expanding aquatic invasive species monitoring, continuing to expand research partners (federal, state, university and non-profit) and meeting fish stocking numbers across ceded territory.

Contact Information

Phone: 906‑632‑6132
Address: 916 Ashmun Street, Sault Ste Marie, MI 49783



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Photo by Ken Bosma / CC BY