The Co-op Angler program involves volunteer anglers biologically sampling their daily steelhead catches. It is a partnership between the Upper Great Lakes Management Unit of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) and the North Shore Steelhead Association (NSSA). The purpose of the program is to collect annual life history and population information on wild steelhead populations in tributary streams of Lake Superior. The science collected can be applied to managing wild steelhead stocks now and in the future.
Each participant receives a sampling kit (measuring tape, knife, scale envelopes and instruction sheet) along with a scientific collectors permit issued by OMNRF. Steelhead anglers record the length, sex, and take a scale sample from each fish. In addition, steelhead in six tributaries are fin clipped and tagged. The fin clipping allows us to estimate the population size (mark / recapture or Petersen estimate). Tagging monitors movement patterns, stray rates, harvest and ageing accuracy. The sampling program is conducted in the spring (April to June) on mature adult steelhead in Lake Superior tributary streams. At the end of the season the data is collected by the NSSA. Life history strategies (stream years, lake years, age at maturity, number of spawning events and total age) are extracted from the scale samples. Data is then analyzed and a report is published on the NSSA web site. The OMNRF and NSSA share the data and the cost for the program.
During the initial stages of this program, biologists with LSMU and the Science and Information section of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR) organized workshops to provide training for those anglers interested in collecting biological samples while involved in recreational fishing. Training was necessary to ensure that the appropriate techniques were employed to provide valid and consistent information, and to reduce mortality as a result of increased handling.
Three steelhead assessment projects are currently being conducted - McIntyre River Steelhead Population Assessment, Portage Creek Steelhead Population Assessment & Co-op Angler Study. All studies are conducted in partnership with the North Shore Steelhead Association, and the Ministry of Natural Resources.