Studying Sucker Spring Migration

MANITOWOC, Wis (WBAY) - They may not be one of Lake Michigan's most desired fish species, but researchers say their ecological value is great.

It's the reason for a first of its kind study on the spring migration of suckers.

Since the first of April, Jessica Johnsrud has stopped by Forget-Me-Not Creek every day between Two Rivers and Manitowoc.

"It's pretty exciting, and people will walk past and wonder what I'm doing because I have a clipboard, so I kind of explain what we're doing and why," says Johnsrud, Woodland Dunes Assistant Director and volunteer for the sucker study.

Organized by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, volunteers like Johnsrud are assisting in a survey of 15 creeks along Lake Michigan to investigate what environmental cues trigger the sucker spawning run.

"It's citizen science, so it's asking citizens to take some time and come out to their local waterways and make some observations. The two that we're looking at are the longnose sucker and the white sucker, and those are fairly common in the Great Lakes and they're the common species that's migrating here right now," says Titus Seilheimer, a fisheries specialist with Wisconsin Sea Grant.

"We measure the depth, we look at the clarity of the water, we note the temperature and the weather, and then we just watch for 10 minutes and if we see suckers we note how many we've seen at one time, we're trying to get the number," adds Johnsrud.

Today Johnsrud counts five suckers in the stream.

While targeted by some anglers to smoke or pickle, suckers are traditionally not a sought after fish and sometimes get a bad rap.

But researchers say this native fish is invaluable in a number of ways.

"Kind of an under-used food fish species, but ecologically they're very important to the food web out in Lake Michigan and in these streams and really throughout Wisconsin's lakes and rivers, suckers are very important," says Seilheimer.

Volunteer researchers will continue checking the streams as long as suckers continue to be present.