I Speak for Fish is a monthly column he writes Great Lakes now Contributor Cathy Johnson, published the third Monday of every month. The publication of the author’s opinions and assertions does not constitute an endorsement by Great Lakes Now or Detroit Public Television. Check out her previous columns.
I was overwhelmed by the shimmering silver as if I had jumped into a giant pile of Christmas tree tinsel.
Each sterling bar was almost identical but collectively they sparkled and shimmered in thousands of shades of silver. Dazzling metallic flashes radiated around me with every twist and turn of their slender bodies.
I was completely immobilized and mesmerized by the magnificence.
Being surrounded by school was a real gift because they usually avoided me. Typically, schools are turned right, left, up or down to prevent any too close encounters. And who can blame them when everyone is out to get them.
Fish eat them. Birds eat them. Turtles eat them. Mink eats them. Raccoons eat them. They’re pretty much the foundation of the freshwater food pyramid. Which should put it at the top of everyone’s most important Great Lakes fish list, right?
My small and unscientific poll on River Park asked the following: “What is the most important group of fish in the Great Lakes? Not surprisingly, it includes all the popular sport fish. Grayling, perch, salmon and trout topped the list, with perch and lake sturgeon also receiving compliments from fan club members.
No one mentioned minnows.
Big little fish
Minnow is often used to describe any small fish but with a name ROM Field Guide to Ontario Fishes “Not all minnows are small and not all small fish are minnows.”
Thailand’s giant minnow reaches 8 feet long and 600 pounds while the smallest known minnow Danionella From Burma the maximum reaches less than half an inch.
Minnows, large or small, are strictly freshwater fish; No one can handle salt water. With over 2,000 species worldwide, minnows are the largest family of freshwater fish and account for approximately 25% of all freshwater fish according to Field Guide to Essex County Fishes.
There are about 231 species of minnow native to North America, of which about 50 species live in the Great Lakes. Nearly two dozen can be found in Lake Huron and lower Lake Erie, with emeralds being the most common.
Emerald sparklers are a favorite species in the baitfish industry.
Despite their physical similarities, minnows differ greatly in their habitat needs and their ability to adapt to environmental changes. Flathead minnows are often among the first to invade new areas and the last to disappear as the area deteriorates. While other species are very intolerant of change and are becoming increasingly threatened.
Spawning behaviors are similarly diverse. Some scatter their eggs. Some build nests. Some use the nests of other fish.
With everyone basically targeting them, the little fish had to develop some extra special mechanisms to survive.
A series of bones called a Weberia device He connects his swim bladder to his inner ear. When their highly sensitive swim bladder detects movement in the water column, it transmits that information to their ears, enabling them to “hear” approaching fish.
This device is also found in catfish and suckers, which are close relatives of minnows.
Shiners can also recognize and communicate with other members of their species by using their swimming bladders to make sounds similar to whale songs and bird calls.
In addition to sound, minnows are one of the few fish that use a chemical warning system. Infected minnows release a pheromone that alerts other minnows to danger. When the alarm is sounded, they huddle together to try to protect themselves from the threat.
I was recently able to watch this behavior on a big screen from the comfort of my living room, and it’s quite a show.
In August, we launched a live-streaming camera into the St. Clair River. the new Great lakes fish camera It streams 24/7 on YouTube.
Live streams can be rewinded up to 12 hours so viewers can come back and catch up on anything they missed. Highlight reels of the best scenes from each week can also be found on our website polkadotperch YouTube channel.
Live streaming provides a unique opportunity to observe real natural behaviors. Although we try to be unobtrusive while diving, our presence affects the behavior of the fish. So, it was great to see what they do when we’re not there.
You only need to watch a single school of polishers stream on live camera to understand how important they are in the food chain. There are at least one but often three or four large bass following each school of minnows.
I counted dozens, including smallmouth, silver bass, walleye, and steelhead, all chasing the same huge school of shiners.
I especially enjoy seeing predators striking because it’s not something I usually see while diving. Schools enter my TV from the right side as they move upriver. They often grow in size until they fill the entire 50 inches with sparkling silver.
Bass and walleye try to strike without warning. When they attacked the school it exploded and scattered with the force of a fireworks display. Then all the scattered pieces of silver almost instantly flow together and continue forward like a T-1000 Terminator.
Excessive waste generation
When you live in an area where you can’t drive more than 30 minutes without seeing a pond, stream, river or lake, you’re likely to be a bigger water user than someone who can drive for days without seeing a pond.
The same applies to fish. If there seems to be an endless supply, conservation can be a difficult sell. The huge schools of brilliance exude abundance.
Truckloads of minnows taken from the Great Lakes are delivered to bait shops every week. A large portion of the bait sold in Michigan retail stores is harvested from Michigan waters according to Michigan Sea Scholarship.
Michigan law requires wholesale fishermen to sell their harvest in Michigan only and prohibits minnows harvested here from being exported and sold elsewhere.
A 2016 Michigan Sea Grant article found that between 25,000 and 38,000 gallons of minnows are harvested from Michigan waters annually. With a wholesale value of $1.3 million and a retail value of $5 to $7.5 million, minnows are a lucrative commodity.
These numbers do not include all the small fish wasted in the process. There is loss at harvest, during transportation, in the store and in bait buckets. And it doesn’t matter because they’re just a bunch of minnows, right?
However, all minnows removed from the Great Lakes are taken directly from the mouth of a fish, bird, turtle or other species.
There was a time when lake sturgeon were plentiful, and it wasn’t a shame to leave a pile of carcasses rotting on the dock. Now, we spend millions of dollars every year trying to increase their numbers.
In the face of abundance, it is difficult to imagine it disappearing completely. But it happens. And not just for other people, at other times and in other places.
So, if you enjoy catching a walleye or perch for dinner. Or you spend hundreds of hours hoping to land a record-breaking trout or muskie. Or if you like the idea of a healthy ecosystem in the Great Lakes, you should really be the biggest advocate and advocate for minnows.
Get more Great Lakes news now:
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Featured image: Looking at the surface as a school of minnows pass overhead. (Image source: Greg Lashbrook/Polkadot Birch)