Non-profit trains citizens to collect fish data on Great Lakes

Aug 15, 2019

A new nonprofit is training citizen scientists to collect data on fish in the Great Lakes, which could be a game changer for research in the region and help prevent the establishment of invasive species.


Stephen Hensler is the co-founder and executive director of Cerulean Center — a non-profit dedicated to Great Lakes research that strives to “advance understanding of the Great Lakes Ecosystem.”

Last month, Hessler stood with a group of citizen scientists, also known as volunteers, at Antrim Creek Natural Area, a nature preserve on the Lake Michigan shoreline just south of Charlevoix.

Stephen Hensler, co-founder and executive director of the Cerulean Center, rolls up a seine net with volunteers at Antrim Creek Natural Area.
Credit Kaye LaFond / Interlochen Public Radio

Hensler and his colleagues showed the group how to collect fish and research each species.

“It's a good activity to do for people of all ages,” he says. “I mean it's pretty fun and it's a low barrier to entry.”

Dale Treese is a retired nurse who lives just down the road from the Antrim Creek Natural Area in a town called Ellsworth. She says she loves volunteering for the Cerulean Center.

“It amazes me how much these people that are teaching us know,” she says. “They're like, obviously fish doctors, and they're so friendly and so informative and you can ask any question and they're going answer it for you. It’s amazing.”

She learned how to identify fish and how to do it without harming them.

“I see how they're counting the fins. I see how they're measuring them,” she says. “I see what kind of sampling they're taking, and how we handled them with our wet hands and not dry hands, so I’ve learned an awful lot.”

The group used a net called a “seine” to collect fish along 50 feet of the shore to get a better picture of the fish community in Grand Traverse Bay.

“You can find things published about individual species or a few species at a time, but we're trying to actually look at all the species together,” Hensler says.

He thinks knowing more about what already lives in the bay will help scientists detect any changes, so having more private citizens on the lookout helps with the effort.

“You know we get a new non-native species here for example, we might have a chance of identifying it and reporting it before it gets a chance to become invasive,” he says.

The Cerulean Center’s sampling project in Grand Traverse Bay will continue through 2020.