Michigan’s St. Marys River Fisheries Assessment

Freighter going through St. Marys River

The Northern Lake Huron Management Unit includes most of the St. Marys River, a large international boundary water connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron.

River management is coordinated by the St. Marys River Fisheries Task Group, which has representatives from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority and member tribes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Lake Superior State University, Sault College, and Algoma University also participate as resource members.

Member agencies will be conducting a fish community survey of the entire St. Marys River during the month of August 2017. During that time fisheries biologists and technicians will be setting survey nets at predetermined sites in the river and capturing a variety of species to collect information on abundance, growth, mortality and size structure of fish populations and compare this latest information against the data collected in previous surveys.

This survey is an important component of the St. Marys River Fisheries Assessment Plan and is necessary to assist in managing healthy sustainable fish communities and fisheries.

“The St. Marys River is a very large and complex waterbody, and the amount of effort (in two countries) required to even approach adequate coverage necessitates multiple partners with common interests in the well-being of the river,” said Dave Borgeson, the unit manager of the DNR, Fisheries Division’s Northern Lake Huron Management Unit.

The information collected by this and other surveys will assist fisheries managers in Ontario and Michigan in critical decisions related to sport fish regulations, fish stocking, shared fisheries, and future management goals and actions. With the popularity of the St. Marys River for those who love to fish, this information is critical to ensuring for future opportunities.

“There is so much fishing effort on the St. Marys River,” explained Neal Godby, a local DNR fisheries biologist. “There are also many different groups with a stake in that fishing so unified management is very important to its future.”

Those boating in the area are asked not to interfere with the nets or their floating markers. Nets will be set overnight and lifted the following day. The well-marked nets should not obstruct normal navigation routes for recreational vessels. The St. Marys River Fisheries Assessment Plan and the 2006 survey report can be found online at the Great Lakes Fishery Commission website.

This is the ninth such survey conducted since 1975, but only the sixth done in a cooperative manner by local fisheries management agencies. The DNR conducted the earlier surveys in 1975, 1979 and 1987 in Michigan waters only. In 1995, 2002, 2006, 2009 and 2013, surveys were done cooperatively covering all waters. This year’s cooperative effort will survey the river from Whitefish Bay to Detour, Michigan and south and east of St. Joseph Island, Ontario.

Additional information about the St. Marys River will be obtained via a joint international creel survey to be done this year by the DNR and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Additional support comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who will cover the costs of air flights to count anglers.

The Northern Lake Huron Management Unit includes most of the St. Marys River, a large international boundary water connecting Lake Superior to Lake Huron. River management is coordinated by the St. Marys River Fisheries Task Group, which has representatives from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority and member tribes, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Lake Superior State University, Sault College, and Algoma University also participate as resource members.

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