Groups work together for gobie survey

Courtesy Photo A crew member from the USGS Arcticus deploys a ROV while conducting a pilot survey in Thunder Bay earlier this week. The USGS is using new technology in the aim of better determining the biomass of gobies.

ALPENA — Due to the area’s adverse weather conditions, the crew from the USGS’s Arcticus docked at the Alpena port with the hopes of completing their pilot survey later this week.

The U.S. Geological Survey in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources are trying new methods of determining the biomass, or the collective weight, of the gobies in Thunder Bay, USGS research fish biologist Peter Esselman said Thursday while at port in Alpena.

“One of the big needs that has been identified by the lake technical committees for all of the lower Great Lakes is to understand the ecological roles of invasive species,” he said. “Some of those invasive species are not well captured in our current surveys.”

To address the issue Esselman said the USGS formed a partnership with the DNR to develop and test methods to better assess round gobies’ biomass. These gobies now are considered to be an important component of the diet of lake trout, walleye, whitefish and other predatory fish, he said.

Esselman said the trouble is gobies prefer rocky bottoms which makes it difficult for the Arcticus to deploy its bottom water trawling equipment. For this pilot survey the crew will use minnow traps, stationary camera systems and remotely operated vehicles, he said.

“This basically allows us to collect visual data on the bottom and the stereo images allows us to extract three dimensional information about the bottom,” Esselman said. “So we are essentially developing a set of artificial intelligence to interpret the images and pick out the relevant information that we’re interested in.”

This new advanced technology is being spearheaded from the University of Michigan’s Deep Robot Optical Perception Lab, he said.

“By mixing advanced robotics aquiciention technology with stereo images and then advanced image interpretation we’re attempting to develop an unbiased method to quantify gobies,” Esselman said.

The funding for this project came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s coordinated sampling and monitoring initiative, he said.

An addition to the new surveying technology, the crews also were using environmental DNA that can determine if a certain species, in this case round gobies, are present in the water. Esselman said this has the potential to also tell researchers the quantity of the specific fish in the water source.

Besides testing the new technologies there was another aspect to the survey. Esselman said by conducting this survey in the spring researchers could make a seasonal comparison as well.

The crew had completed three transects before the weather forced them into port. However, Esselman said the aim is to complete a total of 12 for the pilot study on Thunder Bay.

For the August survey the Arcticus will partner with the DNR’s Research Vessel Tanner to conduct the larger survey.

Tyler Winowiecki can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Tyler on Twitter tw_alpenanews.