Student researchers at MSU are busy analyzing the contents of fish stomachs collected by Great Lakes anglers.
By Katelyn Brolick and Dan O’Keefe
The task of dissecting stomachs is well under way for Katie Kierczynski, a Fisheries and Wildlife graduate student, and a team of undergraduate student researchers. Under the lead of Dr. Brian Roth at Michigan State University, the team has been busy at work looking into the stomachs of over 850 predatory fish from Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, so far. With over 2,000 trout, salmon, and walleye stomachs on hand and 2018 specimens starting to come in there is a lot of work yet to be done.
Not an easy task
Kierczynski and her team use many methods to determine what is inside the fish. They carefully remove all contents from the stomach and then identify prey items to species. It can get very tricky navigating the contents of the stomach after the digestion process is advanced. Researchers identify prey species most commonly using fish bones and other hard structures including vertebra, cleithra, and otoliths. They take careful data on prey species found inside the gamefish. The goal is to understand a better predator-prey relationship within both of the lakes.
Angler groups contribute
Anglers have been extremely helpful with the collection of stomachs, and some have made donations to the Huron-Michigan Diet Study CrowdPower funding page. Donations have aided in hiring part-time student workers to help with the stomach examinations. Nick Green has been working on Lake Huron stomachs throughout the year. Nick Yeager and Mark Hamyln were volunteering their own time to work in the lab, and thanks to crowd funding efforts Mark was hired during the school year to work on the project. Jasmine Czajka is new to the team this summer. She is at MSU working on a Zoology degree and is funded through a Michigan Sea Grant internship. Brok Lamorandier, a Zoology major with a focus on Marine Biology, is also new to the team and will be funded on an MSU Extension summer internship.
In addition to MSU and Michigan Sea Grant, project collaborators include U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Sea Grant, and Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. These agencies have contributed greatly to study design, outreach, and collection of stomachs.
Study results will help inform future decisions
More than 30 individuals have contributed to the crowd-funding effort, in addition to several fishing organizations. The Grand Rapids Steelheaders Foundation donated $2,000 toward student research, and the Grand Haven Steelheaders Foundation, Detroit Area Steelheaders, and Pentwater Sportfishing Association also made generous contributions. The study is helping to show what these big gamefish are eating in Michigan’s waters. The findings will help to inform stocking and management decisions in the future. Kierczynski and her team will be attending many fishing tournaments this summer to collect stomachs and spread the word about the diet study. Follow the team on Facebook and Instagram to see what they have been finding!
If you would like to donate fish stomachs to the study, you can find instructions, data tags, and a short video on the Michigan Sea Grant website.