What are you studying?
The study involves a few things. First off, it's a study being conducted by two of the ecology professors at Bowling Green State University, I'm just added help. The first part of the study involves getting water samples from all of the hatcheries that release steelhead into tributaries to Lake Erie. These water samples are analyzed to determine whether or not an identifiable element or trace of an element can be found in the water. For example, the water in Sandusky Bay and the nearby hatchery has high levels of Strontium. This is like looking for a signature element in the water. This signature shows up in the fishes otolith. The otolith (our ear bone) develops "rings" on it that develop every year. You can age a fish by its otolith. Also though, you can (using lasers and a very expensive machine) determine the chemical composition of the otolith. When fish live in a body of water for awhile, their body takes in elements in the water (i.e. mercury warnings for fish consumption). Well, their otolith maintains the chemicals. So then, fish from a hatchery in the Sandusky Bay area are going to have Strontium in their otoliths. A Steelhead that is taken that has Strontium in it's otolith then can be assumed to have come from that hatchery. Using that as an example, you can determine which rivers are getting which hatcheries fish returning to them to spawn. There are scenarios, like in the Ashtabula River, where there is no stocking program, however there are quite a few Steelhead in that river. With these signatures established, we can determine which hatcheries these fish are coming from.
If a fish's otolith composition does not match up with that from any hatchery, then it may be that the fish was derived from natural reproduction. This study can help determine how much natural reproduction there is in the Lake Erie tributaries. I know the DNR is going to help with electro-fishing surveys of the river. The more fish, the merrier though. There are many uses for this study on the lake, and I think it's a worthwhile cause to find out this information. So, if anyone gets any Steelhead out of Lake Erie tributaries (or the lake itself), feel free to send some fish heads my way. I'll be going to the Vermillion River this weekend with that intention.