Walleye Ogaawag Spearing in the Portage Waterway, Michigan: Integrating Mixed Methodology for Insight on an Important Tribal Fishery

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Great Lakes Research Center


The Portage Waterway in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula supports traditional Anishnaabe walleye (or ogaawag in the Anishnaabe language) spear-harvesting for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). Through reserved Indian treaty fishing rights, KBIC is highly involved in the waterway’s stewardship and annual community spear-harvest. Tribal leadership and fisheries personnel have long documented that annual harvests are far below sustainable quotas. The objectives of this research were to 1) understand the values and concerns of KBIC tribal members on Anishnaabe walleye (ogaawag) spear-harvesting, 2) examine water temperature patterns during the spring 2018 harvest to seek insight on how harvests may be optimized, and 3) integrate Anishinaabe gikendaasowin or traditional knowledge with science and education. We conducted an online survey in February 2018, containing 27 questions, to gain preliminary insight on KBIC’s perspectives of the annual walleye (ogaawag) spear-harvest. Nearly all respondents highly value the spear-harvest tradition personally and on behalf of the community. Similarly, nearly all agreed that it is important for the KBIC to manage its own fishery resources, and that the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department effectively does so. Respondents also expressed concerns about factors that could impact their harvests, including environmental changes and confrontations with non-Native residents. From May 1 to May 19, 2018, we deployed 13 Onset HOBO Pro V2 temperature dataloggers across the Portage Waterway to measure spring warming patterns in locations popular for spear-fishing. This period encompassed the entire KBIC spear-harvest season, with dataloggers recording water temperature every two hours. Temperature data show that management of the harvest season may need revision, as embayments and sloughs where spear-fishing largely occurs warmed significantly earlier than other parts of the waterway. As the presence of walleye (ogaawag) in shallow waters depends on temperature, some parts of the waterway should be opened for harvesting earlier. Our findings will be prepared in a formal recommendation for KBIC leadership in efforts to increase harvests for the Tribal community that rely on walleye (ogaawag) as a sacred and traditional food source.

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Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education