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Great Lakes Article:

Speaker: Degradation of Great Lakes habitat threatens fish species
By Mona Rafeeq
Michigan Daily
01/22/04

In the late 19th century, commercial fishermen drew millions of trout and whitefish from the Great Lakes every year.

Today, sport fisherman catch their game in the billions, causing what a curator emeritus at the University Exhibit Museum of Natural History calls a "terrible mess" to populations of more than 200 species of Great Lakes fish - many of which dwell in Michiganís waters.

This was the topic of discussion for Gerald Smith, recently retired biology professor and curator emeritus of fish, who spoke to an audience of more than 50 students and Ann Arbor residents at the museum last night. He also spoke about how the study of fish has been a significant part of the restoration efforts of the Great Lakes.

"Water that is good for sensitive fish and other aquatic species is also good for all of our human uses," he said.

The lecture kicked off the beginning of the "Life of the Lakes" exhibit. Located in the Rotunda Lobby of the museum, the exhibit explores the science, ecology and biodiversity of the Great Lakes.

There are specific types of fish that can be used as special indicators to monitor water quality. Non-native fish can trigger biodiversity destruction.

For example, the introduction of numerous alewives - fish native to the Gulf of Maine - in the 1870s caused many rotting fish to wash up on lakeshores in the 1960s, producing aesthetic and public health problems for both humans and fish.

According to Smith, there are 40 sites of biodiversity degradation in the Great Lakes region.

"Michigan is an embarrassment," Smith said. "Michigan contributes to many of these sites, more than any other political entity, even Ontario."

He mentioned that Gov. Jennifer Granholm has said federal lawsuits may be needed to prevent the introduction of "alien" fish into Great Lakes waters.

But Smith also suggested other conservation recommendations that include protecting water quality from pollution, increasing awareness of special fish indicators and establishing uniform regulations.

"Become activists - and advocate against pollution and the release of non-native organisms into the Great Lakes for any reason and work for the cleanup and conservation of the environment," Smith said, speaking directly to students.

In addition to speaking about the important purposes fish can serve in determining the quality of water, Smith spoke about the history of the region.

Native Americans were the first humans to use the Great Lakes for fishing and transportation purposes but they did not deplete the natural resources, Smith said.

By the 1870s however, the arrival of European settlers brought evidence of diminishing fish populations.

"Year after year, millions of pounds of these fish were captured without any control or regulations from the government," Smith said, referring to lake trout, lake whitefish and ciscoes. These were the three main types of fish that composed commercial catches for the first 100 years of American history.

Since then, they have either become extinct or almost eliminated by over-fishing and the introduction of non-native fish, he said.

LSA junior David Yang said he thinks Ann Arbor residents and students take natural resources like the Great Lakes and Ann Arborís Huron River for granted.

"It was great to hear about environmental issues relating to the Great Lakes and possible remedies for them," he said.

Smithís talk and the opening of the exhibit also launched a theme semester on biodiversity at the University.

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