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Brook Trout Population Status in the Lake Superior Basin
Midwest Region, December 18, 2012
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Working up fish on North Fish Creek in Wisconsin.
Foreground left to right: Trout Unlimited volunteer Bill Heart, STEP Angelena Koosmann, and fish biologist Michele Wheeler.  Background: Trout Unlimited volunteer Joel Austin.
Working up fish on North Fish Creek in Wisconsin. Foreground left to right: Trout Unlimited volunteer Bill Heart, STEP Angelena Koosmann, and fish biologist Michele Wheeler. Background: Trout Unlimited volunteer Joel Austin. - Photo Credit: Anna Varian USFWS

It is clear that numbers of brook trout are down in many tributaries to Lake Superior, but where are they doing well? What is the current status of brook trout populations and what factors are now limiting them from rebounding? How can we best focus efforts to bring them back? These are the questions that led to the Ashland Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office’s Status and Distribution of Brook Trout project, initiated in 2011.

 

Modeled on efforts of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, a 17-State partnership formed to assess the status of brook trout in the eastern United States.   The first step was to rally all available fisheries data from state, federal and tribal agencies and university partners throughout the Lake Superior basin. Over 2,000 records from fishery surveys dating back to 2002 began to fill in the picture, but information was still lacking on many streams. Focusing on streams identified in the Brook Trout Rehabilitation Plan for Lake Superior, U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service field crews spent the past two summers trekking throughout Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to fill in some of the blanks.

Led by Anna Varian, fish biologist with the Ashland FWCO, summer field crews have used backpack, barge and boat electrofishing gears to sample nearly 500 stations over two summers. Partners from the 1854 Treaty Authority, an inter-tribal resource management agency in Minnesota, and Trout Unlimited volunteers in Wisconsin and Michigan provided field sampling assistance during the two field seasons, representing over 100 hours of volunteer support from TU volunteers! Survey crews followed fish sampling and biological collection procedures developed to address aspects of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and Michigan Department of Natural Resources protocols to ensure the data had value for our partner agencies as well as for this project. All fish were collected and identified. Salmonids were measured for total length, brook trout were also weighed and a small piece of fin tissue was collected for genetic analysis.

Varian will use the fishery data to classify segments of streams known as catchments and subwatersheds, according to their brook trout population status. Status is dependent on whether brook trout are present and the life stages of fish in the waters sampled. Preliminary results were presented by Varian at the national American Fisheries Society conference in St. Paul in August.

Results are analyzed and presented in GIS as color coded maps that show categories of population status across the Lake Superior basin. Using GIS and regression modeling tools, Varian will then examine landscape parameters to model why brook trout populations are distributed the way they are and in what areas they are able to complete their life cycle. The final product will be a tool to determine what actions will promote recovery of brook trout, and prioritize which areas to focus restoration activities. The data will be shared with fishery and land managers from state, tribal, and federal agencies, along with local units of government, university researchers, and NGOs.


Contact Info: Anna Varian, 715-682-6185 ext 13, anna_varian@fws.gov



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