My Summer as a Fisheries Biologist
BY MARGARET HUTTON , ALPENA FWCO, WATERFORD MI SUB -STATION
The Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program was created in 1971 to give students between the ages of 15 to 19 an opportunity to gain hands on experience in the field working with fish and wildlife biologists across the nation. The Detroit International Wildlife Refuge has been hosting students for a number of years.
This year, five high school students in the YCC and Steve Harvey Mentoring Program came together from around metro Detroit to participate. The students participated in many terrestrial projects within the Refuge such as trail construction, invasive plant removal, and habitat preservation, just to name a few. This year’s YCC crew, though, gained a different view of the Refuge, from the Detroit River. Most of the students had never had the chance to be on a boat and for three weeks out of their summer, they shadowed fish biologists from the Alpena Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, Waterford Substation conducting aquatic assessments on the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.
The students were involved in three different aquatic related projects during the summer of 2014, starting with assessing the fish population in Humbug Marsh near the Refuge Gateway. After getting their toes wet learning knot tying and fish identification, the students and fish biologists jumped right in for the next two weeks setting fyke nets and minnow traps in the Detroit River as a part of the early detection monitoring program for invasive species within the Great Lakes. After a few short days, the students really began to gain their sea legs and became valuable hands on the boats. With their help, the crew completed the study within the week and moved on to setting setlines in Lake Erie. This was a part of a monitoring program for juvenile lake sturgeon in the St. Clair-Detroit River System that has been ongoing for a few years. The students also had the opportunity to experience other sampling techniques such as bottom otter-trawling, boat electrofishing, shore seining, and set lining for adult lake sturgeon.
At the end of the three weeks in the field, the students were taught how to analyze the data that they had just collected from these assessments. Fish biologists helped the students through two days in the lab which included learning how to age a fish using dorsal spines, use of dichotomous keys to identify different fish and macroinvertebrate species, analyze age and growth curves, and estimate a population based on the number of marked and recaptured fish from Humbug Marsh. Overall, the students gained a broad understanding of the jobs and responsibilities fisheries biologists partake in throughout the year. At the end, the biologists gave the students a little advice about how to succeed in the future, not just in this field but overall when choosing colleges, classes, and future jobs. All in all, it was a marvelous experience for the students and very rewarding for the biologists to watch the students learn, grow, and become part of the crew.