Editor’s note: This post was written by 2023 intern Ava Tackabury. 

Research partners (including The Nature Conservancy, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and myself) are currently studying the return of Lake Whitefish spawning to Lake Michigan rivers. Historically, Lake Whitefish spawned upstream in Lake Michigan tributaries, but logging and damming in the late 1800s nearly put an end to river spawning and contributed to a large population decline. Lake Whitefish are not only an important cultural and economic asset for commercial and tribal fisheries but also integral to the biodiversity of the Great Lakes.

Earlier this summer, I participated in a stocking effort in the Pine River where we introduced 4,000 Lake Whitefish fry (raised in a Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians hatchery) to see if they would “imprint” on the river and return to the river to spawn later in life. Hopefully, this effort can become more broadly applicable to other Lake Michigan rivers later on in helping Lake Whitefish return. Read more about the project via The Nature Conservancy. Here are some photos from the experience:

Wide river flanked by banks of conifer trees

Our Pine River stocking area near the mouth. Photo: Ava Tackabury


Conservation agency staff standing on a boat near a grassy bank.

Transferring the 4,000 Lake Whitefish fry from the hatchery truck into the boat. Photo: Ava Tackabury


Two boats on a wide river

Electrofishing after releasing the fry to track their movement upstream into the river or downstream toward the mouth. Photo: Ava Tackabury


Two conservation workers sitting on the back of a boat in a river

MDNR workers Kyra Allen (left) and Ava Tackabury (right) aboard an electrofishing research vessel. Photo: Matthew Herbert


Conservation staff standing on the back of a research boat on a wide river.

Supplementary to the electrofishing, towing a Neuston net behind the boat also helped us to track Lake Whitefish movements post-release. Photo: Ava Tackabury


Debris at the bottom of a white bucket

Sorting through the Neuston net catch debris to count Lake Whitefish at segmented points upstream and downstream. Photo: Ava Tackabury


Many small silvery fish in a large fishing net

A net of lake whitefish fry during stocking. Photo: Matthew Herbert


Small silvery fish in the palm of a hand

One of the small Lake Whitefish fry we released. Photo: Ava Tackabury