CMU Students Work to Solve Mystery of Disappearing Lake Whitefish

There’s a mystery on the Great Lakes and it’s one that students at Central Michigan University are trying to help solve.

CMU biology students are putting in detective work to help solve the mystery of disappearing lake whitefish.

CMU students chasing down lake whitefish mystery1The species’ importance to northern Michigan is undeniable: The popularity of Great Lakes whitefish as a food source fuels a solid commercial fishing industry.

But their numbers are dropping. Younger ones remain plentiful for sure, but the adults are getting scarcer.

State and federal agencies, and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, are also on a quest for answers.

Students at CMU’s Biological Station on Beaver Island are taking a hard look at juvenile fish this summer.

The adults spawn in November and the young hatch in spring.

The juveniles are then in deeper water by mid-July.

That means May, June and early July are perfect times for CMU students to take water samples along the Beaver Island shoreline.

One of the possible causes they’re piecing together is the relationship between the whitefish and the round goby, a tiny fish that invaded the Great Lakes in the late 20th century.

CMU students chasing down lake whitefish mystery1-12The relationship is competitive and students are hoping to learn if the two species are chowing down on the same invertebrates, or if the goby have acquired a taste for the whitefish young.

Adult lake whitefish are known to eat round gobies, and one of the students said he’s hoping to see if adult round gobies are eating young whitefish.

One thing the researchers say is that the decline in whitefish isn’t a crisis – for now. But it is a concern that needs to be looked into, which is what the students are attempting to do.