Great Lakes Sea Grant programs awarded $1 million for aquaculture collaborative

September 25th, 2019 by

Six Great Lakes Sea Grant programs have been awarded $1 million to work together on a three-year project to increase aquaculture production and sales in the region.

The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative is one of 42 research projects and collaborative programs totaling $16 million aimed at advancing sustainable aquaculture in the United States funded by the National Sea Grant Office. The awards are dependent on the availability of federal funds.

Despite the fact that the Great Lakes comprise one of world’s largest freshwater ecosystems, aquaculture production in the region is failing to keep pace with increases in consumer demand for fish and seafood. This contributes to a national seafood trade deficit of $14 billion, second only to oil in the ranking of natural resource trade deficits. 

“Through the Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative, our goal is to lay the foundation for an environmentally responsible, competitive and sustainable aquaculture industry,” said Stuart Carlton, IISG assistant director. “And from the consumer perspective, to provide more opportunities to buy locally raised protein in the form of farm-raised fish.”

Minnesota Sea Grant will lead the collaborative, and for its part, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) will explore perceived barriers to successful aquaculture operations in the Great Lakes region. Amy Shambach, IISG aquaculture marketing outreach associate, will interview producers, food distributors, grocers, restauranteurs and other key players to provide insights that inform efforts to improve aquaculture production and marketing.

“It is vital to the growth of the aquaculture industry in the Great Lakes region to not only assess the industry’s needs but to then get that information into the hands of farmers,” said Shambach.

The Great Lakes Aquaculture Collaborative is funded by National Sea Grant’s Advanced Aquaculture Collaborative Program. This program seeks to build the capacity of Sea Grant and its partners to advance aquaculture in areas where a foundation of knowledge and activity currently exists but where significant barriers to sustainable domestic marine and Great Lakes aquaculture remain.

“These investments are critical to advancing United States aquaculture in sustainable, thoughtful ways using the best science and talent across the country,” said National Sea Grant Director Jonathan Pennock. “With our 2019 investments, we can address critical gaps in information, understanding and connectivity of science to industry.”

IISG was also awarded a second grant to study challenges to raising walleye in aquaculture production. “Walleye has a local identity—it has a strong association with the Midwest, is available in restaurants as a commercially caught species, and may be suitable for aquaculture,” said Kwamena Quagrainie, IISG aquaculture marketing specialist.

Currently farm-raised walleye in Illinois and Indiana is minimal. Quagrainie, along with Carlton and Purdue University researchers Robert Rode and Joseph Balagtas, are leading a working group that aims to understand the business and real-world production barriers to raising these fish in an economically sustainable manner. National Sea Grant awarded them $96,000 to find answers.

“There is reason to believe that walleye aquaculture could be a boon in the two states, but a lot of background work needs to be done to see if it is even feasible,” added Quagrainie.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Climate change creates uncertainty for Indiana’s aquatic animals, plants

September 6th, 2018 by

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Warming temperatures and changes to Indiana’s precipitation patterns will challenge some of the plants and animals that depend on the state’s water for their survival, according to a new report from the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment team assembled and managed by Purdue University.

The report, “Aquatic Ecosystems in a Shifting Indiana Climate,” will be released during a community briefing at 11 a.m. CDT, Sept. 12 in the Conservation Room at Bass Pro Shops, 6425 Daniel Burnham Drive, Portage, Indiana. The event is open to the public.

The temperature of Indiana’s waters—from inland ponds, lakes and rivers to the southern portion of Lake Michigan—is expected to rise with air temperatures over the coming decades. Impacts will include changes in the growth patterns, movement and reproduction of fish, which could have consequences for both commercial and sport fishing.

More rainfall in the spring and less in the summer would change stream flows, potentially damaging habitats for aquatic organisms such as Indiana’s several endangered mussel species.

dead fish floating

“Aquatic Ecosystems in a Shifting Indiana Climate,” will be released during a community briefing at 11 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, Sept. 12, in the Conservation Room at Bass Pro Shops, 6425 Daniel Burnham Drive, Portage, Indiana. The report will discuss how changing climate conditions will affect Indiana’s fish population. (Purdue University photo)

“For many animals, climate change is a little like a game of Jenga.  Climate change is pulling more and more blocks out of the tower.  We don’t know exactly which block will be the last for a particular species of fish or amphibians,” said Jeff Dukes, director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. “We’ve already reduced their habitats, and climate change is another challenge.  How much change can they take?”

Ecologists and biologists from Purdue, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Ball State University and the University of Notre Dame contributed to the report. Tomas Höök, Purdue professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences and director of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, is lead author.

The Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (IN CCIA) has compiled the latest scientific research into a series of easily understandable reports about climate change impacts in ten topic areas: climate, health, forest ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, urban green infrastructure, tourism and recreation, agriculture, water resources, energy, and infrastructure.

The reports that have been previously released are available on the IN CCIA website at For more information about the IN CCIA, go to the website or follow on social media at @PurdueCCRC, #ClimateChange, #INCCIA.


Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-532-0233,

Source: Jeff Dukes, 765-496-3662,

Purdue Agricultural Communications: (765) 494-8415; Maureen Manier, Department Head,

Analysis: Most microplastic harm done at lowest levels of food web

April 30th, 2018 by

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University scientists led a comprehensive analysis of research concerning the effects of microplastics on aquatic life, with the results showing widely different impacts among different types of animals. Strong negative effects were particularly apparent for small animals, such as larval fish and zooplankton, a source of food for many species, suggesting serious potential consequences that could ripple throughout the food web.

Tomas Höök, an associate professor in Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and director of the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program, led a team that designed a meta-analysis of research related to the effects of microplastics on aquatic life. The analysis, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, used results from 43 other studies that each considered the effects of microplastics on consumption of food, growth, reproduction, and/or survival of aquatic animals. The analysis mathematically calculated one or more effect size(s) for each study, then those effects were combined statistically to understand the big-picture effect on animals. The animals included in this study were all aquatic but ranged from fish to mussels to sea urchins to worms.

The most significant findings included:

*  Considering all effect sizes together, on average, exposure to microplastics negatively affects consumption, growth and survival of aquatic animals.
*  However, the results are highly varied and not all groups of animals were affected in the same ways.
*  Microplastics significantly reduced growth, reproduction and survival of zooplankton.
*  When exposed to microplastics, larval and juvenile fish see negative effects on natural consumption of other foods.

“One of the types of organisms that seems to be affected is crustacean zooplankton, which are the main prey for many small fishes,” said Höök, whose findings were published in the journal Science of the Total Environment. “The fact that these very small organisms are consuming these microplastics, altering their growth, reproduction and survival, means there could be consequences up the food web. If zooplankton numbers decline, there may be less food available for organisms at higher trophic levels.”

Microplastics, small pieces of the material less than 5 millimeters in size, have been found in waters and soils in and around all seven continents. They come from a wide variety of sources, including broken-down food and drink containers, fibers from synthetic clothing, industrial waste and some beauty products.

Many organizations and governments have tried to reduce the amount of plastic pollution reaching water and wildlife, but the effects these microplastics are having on the range of aquatic life hasn’t been clear. Purdue’s meta-analysis puts all the current, applicable research into perspective.

“Our results most strongly support the notion that exposure to microplastics leads to negative effects on consumption of aquatic organisms, with less compelling and consistent evidence that growth, reproduction or survival of aquatic organisms is negatively affected by exposure to microplastics,” the authors find.

Carolyn Foley, a research associate in Purdue’s Department of Natural Resources and research coordinator for Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, said few of the studies analyzed included microplastic fibers, the small pieces of plastic that break away from larger pieces. That might be an area to focus future research. She also suggested that while the effects on upper-level functions, such as reproduction and survival, were highly variable, there isn’t a similar summary of research examining how microplastics might be altering aquatic life in less perceptible ways.

“If microplastics aren’t having immediate effects on these upper-level functions, maybe there are less-obvious and cumulative negative impacts,” said Foley, who is the lead author of the paper. “It may be more important to look at finer-level effects, including molecular-level effects.”

The Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program and Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources funded the research.

A video of Tomas Höök discussing the effects of microplastics on aquatic life is available at


Director Tomas Hook takes the helm at Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

February 21st, 2018 by


Tomas Höök has taken the lead as director of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, managing program administration at Purdue University after the transition from University of Illinois. Höök, who has been with IISG since 2010, was previously the program’s associate director of research. He replaces Brian Miller, who served as IISG director for the past ten years.

“As director, I initially hope to help guide the program through the transition period as our administration moves from Illinois to Purdue and new staff members come on board, all while dealing with uncertain federal funding scenarios,” Höök said. “Eventually, I’d like to help our program develop new initiatives, partnerships and approaches to help inform and empower Illinois and Indiana communities.”

Höök holds an appointment as associate professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University. He directs a Purdue research lab that investigates environmental questions at the interface between applied and basic ecology, focusing on fish and fisheries ecology in the Great Lakes.

“Purdue is thrilled that Dr. Tomas Hook will serve as the next director of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant,” said Robert Wagner, head of Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. “Tomas brings outstanding previous experience with IISG, as well as incredible expertise, to this leadership position. We are happy to once again serve as the lead institution for the next phase of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant.”

Höök grew up in Sweden but completed high school in Alabama when his family moved to the United States and he now holds dual citizenship in both countries. He received his BS, MS and PhD from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining IISG and Purdue University, he worked at the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (now known as CIGLR) and as a visiting scientist at Stockholm University in Sweden. Höök is also a former president of the International Association for Great Lakes Research.

“I enjoy working with IISG because I believe our program makes a real difference through applied research and engagement, thereby facilitating communities in Illinois and Indiana to improve quality of life and environmental conditions around Lake Michigan,” said Höök. “I also appreciate that IISG staff members are a dedicated, knowledgeable and fun bunch to work with.”

Purdue University directs Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant administration

February 5th, 2018 by


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University will administer the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program (IISG), previously managed by the University of Illinois, effective Feb. 1, 2018. New IISG director Tomas Höök, a fisheries biologist in Purdue’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, will lead the administration.

IISG research, outreach and education efforts bring the latest science to southern Lake Michigan residents and decision makers and empower them to secure a healthy environment and economy.

The program has been a leader in the region on aquatic invasive species control, pollution prevention and Great Lakes literacy, and has developed decision tools that help communities grow while protecting natural resources. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant supports more than 50 permanent medicine collection programs in the Great Lakes region, has helped the Indiana aquaculture industry grow fivefold and provides resources for municipalities to plan for future water supplies.

Terri Hallesy talking to students

Terri Hallesy, IISG education coordinator, engages elementary students at the University of Illinois’ Brady STEM Academy about the threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes.

IISG is funded through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Purdue University and the University of Illinois.

Tomas Höök, Director

“While Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant has recently been administered by the University of Illinois, it has always been a truly bi-state program,” says Höök, who has served as IISG’s associate director for research since 2010. “For the past 16 years, the program has greatly benefitted from IISG leadership at Illinois, especially Brian Miller and Lisa Merrifield. With program administration moving to Purdue, IISG will continue to work to empower Lake Michigan communities in both Illinois and Indiana through applied discovery and information dissemination.”

Purdue University and the University of Illinois have worked closely to oversee IISG since 1982, periodically transferring the program directorship. Over its 36 years, the program has maintained an administrative presence at both universities.

“When I started my career with Sea Grant in 1994, we were going through an administrative transition similar to the one happening right now,” says Brian Miller, who has been program director for 11 years and is now retiring. “What we have accomplished since that time provides a wonderful platform for even greater growth in the future.”

Jay Beugly and Margaret Hutton, Purdue University

IISG Aquatic Ecologist Jay Beugly helps Purdue University student Margaret Hutton sample Lake Michigan water near Wilmette, Illinois.

IISG is part of the National Sea Grant College program, established in 1966 to protect and preserve America’s coastline and water resources to create a sustainable economy and environment. The network consists of a partnership between NOAA and 33 university-based programs in every coastal and Great Lakes state.

Charter fishing records reveal long-term salmonid story

January 10th, 2017 by

Researchers at Purdue University are suggesting that fishing by Lake Michigan charter boat anglers has changed in recent years—and the scientists didn’t even have to visit the lake to notice these differences.

In fact, Nicholas Simpson who is the primary author on the study has never even fished Lake Michigan.

Working with Tomas Höök, fisheries ecologist and IISG associate director for research, Simpson, then an undergraduate, compiled 21 years of charter fishing data obtained from the Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources (DNR).

The data, derived from more than 500,000 trips, were readily available from the records charter anglers are required to report to their state DNR after each trip: number of fish harvested—not just caught, location fished, and hours spent fishing.

Simpson, Höök, and their co-authors evaluated patterns for five salmonid species—brown trout, Chinook salmon, coho salmon, lake trout, rainbow trout—harvested from May to September during 1992–2012.

“Because we’re looking at charter fisherman data, there are some biases,” Höök acknowledged. “They’re not randomly going out to catch fish. They go where they believe they’re more likely to catch fish.”

But there is an advantage to examining these data. Researchers often attempt to catch fish in a systematic, unbiased way, and may be limited by factors, such as funding timelines or resources. As a result, “the number of times the lake is fished or the overall number of fish caught wouldn’t be that much,” Höök pointed out. “Here we’re taking advantage of a huge number of people fishing over a long time period.”

The data set covers a time when the lake itself has changed dramatically. Lake temperature and other physical and biological factors are different today than they were in 1992. Over the course of the data set, the distribution and number of prey fish, such as alewives, available for salmon varied greatly.

In addition, while it may be hard to remember a time when zebra and quagga mussels—invasive filter feeders—didn’t line almost every inch of Lake Michigan, zebra mussels were just becoming an issue in the first year of data. Numerous studies have suggested that the mussels have changed the structure of the Lake Michigan food web over time.

The researchers assumed that salmonid species would not be immune to these changes, and some patterns emerged from the charter anglers’ records.


Over time, the amount of time charter anglers spent fishing increased. The anglers also shifted their efforts closer to shore and toward the western and northern parts of Lake Michigan. However, patterns in the harvest of individual salmonid species paint a complicated picture.

Harvest of lake trout and rainbow trout by charter anglers shifted closer to the shore. The same was not true for Chinook and coho, where harvest was consistently farther out in the lake. Brown trout were harvested progressively further west and south, while lake trout were harvested progressively further east. Multiple species were harvested in new locations and at new depths.

In general, the researchers suggest that many of the changes are related to salmonid feeding.

“Previous research has shown the brown trout and rainbow trout and to an extent lake trout are a little more flexible in their diets,” Simpson said. “They were more apt to shift closer to shore and to shallower depths for food. Chinook salmon and coho salmon may not have displayed those trends because they’re more reliant on alewife as prey, which tend to live farther out in the lake.”

“There’s no previous research in the literature that would suggest that coho or Chinook salmon would vary their diet as much as the other three species,” Simpson added.

The researchers stopped short of definitively declaring that fish are changing where they dwell in response to changes in distributions of Lake Michigan nutrients and prey, but they’re confident the results from this paper will be useful.

“The depth and breadth of this data set is what makes it powerful,” said Höök. “While we have to be aware of the biases, fisheries researchers do use catch and harvest data to infer species distributions.”

And while fisheries managers will ultimately need to consider this analysis alongside their own monitoring efforts, Simpson said, “I think it’s useful for fisheries managers especially on Lake Michigan to be able to see that there are shifts occurring.

The study on their findings was recently published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue Extension.

Species spotlight: Hellbender

July 18th, 2016 by

Lurking in the rivers and streams of the eastern United States is an animal that is equal parts off-putting and adorable—the hellbender. The largest salamander in North America, (third largest in the world behind the Chinese giant salamander and Japanese giant salamander) this oozy oddity has an average length of two feet from snout to tail.

It occupies a range stemming from New York near Lake Ontario to northern Georgia, even reaching as far west as southern Illinois. The species and its ancestors have occupied this ecological niche since the late cretaceous period, around 65 million years ago—about the same time lake sturgeon have been around in the Great Lakes.

Also like the lake sturgeon (as well as opossum shrimp) hellbenders are sensitive to their surroundings. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, the swiftness of the water itself, and the presence of large rocks all contribute to whether or not hellbenders occupy an area. They’re most active during the night, (like another “ugly” aquatic creature, the burbot ), feeding once the water has cooled, about two hours after dark. They eat crayfish, other small fish, dead fish, even other hellbenders and their eggs. This cannibalism contributes to controlling the population density in an area.

Usually solitary animals, hellbenders will congregate from late August to mid-September for mating season. The males lure the females into their burrows and prevent them from leaving until they have deposited their eggs while the males simultaneously fertilize the eggs.

After the eggs are laid, the male hellbenders force the females out of the burrow and take over. The males rock back and forth to circulate the water and increase the oxygen available to the eggs and protect them from predators—which can include other hellbenders.

Newborn hellbenders have true gills, but as they grow older, respiration is achieved mainly by breathing through capillaries found along skin folds that run along their back and belly.

Little is known about the average lifespan of hellbenders. Some in captivity have lived to be as old as 29, but there is speculation that those in the wild can live for 50 years or longer.

Hellbenders have been in decline for a while and are considered Near Threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, with many populations already considered endangered or extinct. Habitat destruction and disease are thought to be the major contributors to their falling numbers. Now many states, agencies, and institutions have developed conservation programs to help bring awareness to the plight of the hellbender.

Find more information on this threatened species at Purdue University’s Help the Hellbender website.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

Purdue researchers get to the bottom of another quagga mussel impact

July 12th, 2016 by

Descend 55 meters to the floor of Lake Michigan and you’ll find the bottom carpeted with tens of thousands of one of the most prolific invasive species in the Great Lakes: the quagga mussel.

Researchers have long known that these voracious filter feeders impact water quality in the lake, but their influence on water movement had remained largely a mystery.

From 2012 to 2013, Purdue University PhD candidate David Cannon, working under hydrodynamicist Cary Troy, used water velocity sensors to measure dynamics in the deep waters of Lake Michigan near Milwaukee, Wisconsin and determine the filtration effects of the invasive mussels. The project was supported by a grant from the Illinois-Indiana and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs.

Quagga mussels, which arrived in Lake Michigan in the 1990s via ballast water discharged from ships, have colonized vast expanses of the Lake Michigan bottom, reaching densities as high as roughly 35,000 quagga mussels per square meter. The invasive species that can have major economic impacts filters up to 4 liters of water per day, and so far seems unaffected by any means of population control. It is also a constant threat to other systems, as it is readily transported between water bodies.

“Quagga mussels filter by ‘sucking in’ the water around them and then ‘spitting out’ what (nutrients and particles) they don’t want,” said Cannon. “While they’re doing this, they’re able to directly move a very small amount of water around them—only about 10 cm above the lake bed.”


Quagga mussels harvested from Lake Michigan.

Although this filtering has a dramatic effect on water quality, the measurements taken near Milwaukee suggest that quaggas do not strongly influence movement throughout the entire water column.

But the movement they cause in the thin layer immediately above the lake bed—a phenomenon consistent throughout the year thanks to stable temperatures at the bottom of Lake Michigan—is an element missing from most mussel filtration models.

Cannon and Troy hope that will now change. Their results could lead to the development of better models to study the effects of these organisms on lakes and reservoirs around the world.

“Although Lake Michigan is already infested with these mussels, an accurate filtration model would be imperative for determining the fate of substances like nutrients and plankton in the water,” Cannon said. “In other quagga mussel-threatened systems, like Lake Mead, this could be used to determine the potential impact of mussels on the lake, which could in turn be used to develop policy and push for funding to keep mussels out of the lakes.”

“It’s generally accepted that the ecosystems of smaller, shallower lakes—Lake Erie, for example—are at the greatest risk of quagga mussel invasion,” he added. “Our results could help show other researchers that the effects of mussels on large, deep lakes cannot be ignored and, more importantly, how they can be accounted for.”

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is a part of University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension.

Congratulations IAGLR student award winners!

June 13th, 2016 by

Three Purdue University students working with IISG researchers took home awards at this year’s IAGLR conference in Guelph, Ontario.

JGLR/Elsevier Early Career Scientist Award went to Jonah Withers, Purdue University, for his article “Diets and growth potential of early stage larval yellow perch and alewife in a nearshore region of southeastern Lake Michigan,” in the Journal of Great Lakes Research. This $750 award recognizes a scientist at the early stages of his or her career and is first author on the top-ranked article in the Journal of Great Lakes Research. Co-authors include, IISG’s Carolyn Foley, associate research coordinator and Tomas Höök, associate director for research and Timothy Sesterhenn, and Cary Troy.

IAGLR-Hydrolab Best Student Paper Award

Margaret Hutton, a Master’s student with Paris Collingsworth, IISG Great Lakes ecosystems specialist, received one of two top oral presentations given by students at the Vermont IAGLR 2015 meeting for “Nearshore primary production in Lake Michigan: Analysis of trends using remote sensing techniques.”

Paul W. Rodgers Scholarship

The 2016 winner is Timothy Malinich, who works with Tomas Höök, for his project on the “Phenotypic plasticity of yellow perch and the role of phenotypic diversity in fish populations.” The $2,000 scholarship was established in memory of Paul W. Rodgers, who was vice president of LimnoTech, a Great Lakes researcher, and active supporter of IAGLR. It is given to a student to support the advancement of knowledge relating to Great Lakes aquatic ecosystem health and management. This is the final year this scholarship will be awarded.

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