Sanborn students plant lake trout

ALPENA – Fifth-graders from Sanborn Elementary School took a ride on the Lady Michigan Monday, but not for the usual shipwreck tour. The students were collecting data on and around the artificial reefs as part of the Thunder Bay River Watershed Project, and releasing over 600 lake trout the class had raised from eggs this past winter.

“Our goal with the lake trout is to acclimate the fish and have them return to the reefs to spawn,” teacher Bob Thomson said. “We are also checking the quality of the food chain and taking water samples from the surface and bottom of the lake.”

According to University of Vermont professor Ellen Marsden, who joined the students on the boat, trout spawn in November and don’t hatch until April or May. Marsden has been working on the reef restoration program in Thunder Bay, which provides areas for fish species like lake trout and whitefish to spawn.

“There are over 26 artificial reefs here,” Marsden said. “The trout spawn on the edges of the reefs because they form a natural current and it gives the eggs the oxygen they need so they don’t suffocate.”

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s website, the reef construction was made possible by grants from the Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act, the Estuary Restoration Act (NOAA Estuary Habitat Restoration program in conjunction with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers), and donations from Lafarge Alpena Plant.

Lafarge donated the limestone cobble used to build the reefs, which are located adjacent to the cement plant reef and cement kiln dust reef. Both are sites where lake trout and other species of fish spawn and congregate.

Students took care of the trout fingerlings until they reached approximately one inch in length, then took them near the artificial reefs to drop them off in hopes they return to spawn.

“We have to acclimate them by seeing how cold the water in the lake is and make the water in the cooler the same, so they don’t go into shock when we dump them,” student Jake Schiller said.

Students also studied the available food for the fingerling trout by dragging a small net in the water to catch phytoplankton and zoo plankton. They took samples of the water with the nets and put the samples under microscopes to examine each specimen, determining the availability of food.

There also was a station set up for students to drive an ROV along the bottom of the lake and view zebra muscles, seaweed clumps, and sand waves, along with two underwater cameras, manned by the students, to get a better view of the lake floor.

“We’re going to try to get samples,” student Noah Fischer said. “We’re trying to collect some zebra muscles.”

The students continue to collect data from the reef area in the spring and fall, adding to the data they already have collected, and coming up with different hypothesis on the state of invasive species and the condition of Thunder Bay and the Thunder Bay River.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.