BY ANTHONY RIETH AND BRANDON HARRIS, GREEN BAY FWCO
The vision of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and its fisheries program is working with partners to restore and maintain native fish and other aquatic resources to self-sustaining levels. To the Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office (FWCO) the vision embodies teamwork and the need to strive for integrative and collaborative partnerships. When these long term partnerships – whose foundation spans jurisdictions – develop shared management goals and pool limited resources and scientific expertise, the results can be a lasting success. The Service has many great examples of successful, long-term partnerships and another one is developing in the Bay of Green Bay in Lake Michigan.
The Bay of Green Bay (hereafter referred to as the Bay), the largest freshwater estuary in the world, is bordered by both Wisconsin and Michigan and encompasses 1,626 square miles. The Bay is home to a wealth of aquatic resources and supports a prolific and diverse fishery (see Dec 8th FISH LINES article titled Monitoring for Invasive Species in the World’s Largest Freshwater Estuary ). However, studying this large system and its diverse array of habitat and fish species is complex and poses challenges that a single agency cannot overcome. As a result, many unanswered questions remain involving fish population dynamics, fish ecology, life history traits, habitat usage, and the effects of hypoxia (low oxygen) on fish distribution. Each year, many state, federal, and non-profit organizations conduct survey activities in the Bay to assess and improve the fishery and better understand this complex ecosystem.
The first Green Bay Coordination Meeting was started in 2015 to bring together agencies to discuss potential collaboration and current sampling efforts in the Bay. On January 4, 2017, over 30 members representing nine organizations (United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Wisconsin and Michigan Department of Natural Resources, NEW Water, The Nature Conservancy, Sea Grant, and The University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, Stevens Point, and Milwaukee) convened at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay for the 3rd Annual Green Bay Coordination Meeting. This year’s meeting had special meaning because the group is now transitioning to the Green Bay Working Group under the Lake Michigan Technical Committee.
The meeting consisted of agency representatives providing information on current projects and new ideas and then breakout discussion groups. Anthony Rieth, USFWS Biological Science Technician, presented on AIS monitoring efforts in the Bay for fishes (larval, juvenile and adult life stages), macroinvertebrates, and environmental DNA. Ted Treska, USFWS Fish Biologist, moderated the meeting and provided updates about native species activities taking place in the Bay. Topics discussed at the meeting included: developing a standardized Bay wide assessment sampling method, investigating spatial coverage of the Bay to increase sampling resolution and prevent extensive overlap in agency sampling efforts, Lake whitefish telemetry, Cisco research, hypoxia monitoring and modeling in the Bay, and fish monitoring and restoration efforts on Green Bay tributaries.
Almost as if it was planned in advance, an opportunity to collaborate with NEW Water presented itself. NEW Water manages wastewater facilities for the city of Green Bay and seeks to improve water quality on the bay of Green Bay. Of special concern to NEW Water, is the monitoring and mapping of hypoxic conditions, which move around the Bay and expand and contract in size during the summer months. Additional water quality data would help NEW Water in refining their hypoxia model, and the AIS program is currently collecting water quality at all sampling locations. In return, the Hypoxia models created by NEW Water are shared with partners (such as the USFWS) who use the information to improve sampling regimes and better understand how fish assemblages are distributed in the Bay throughout the year. This is a case of where collaboration results in improved sampling and understanding of the fisheries in the Bay of Green Bay.