Salmon Shootout anglers assist researcher with data

University of Western Ontario masters biology student Jacob Lasci delves deep into the internal workings of salmonid species during the Salmon Shootout. In return for cleaning an angler’s catch, the researcher hopes to discover clues that will better inform our understanding of the health of the relationship between salmon species and their prey. photo by Michael Erskine

­SOUTH BAYMOUTH – The cancellation of the popular Manitoulin Expositor Salmon Classic due to the onrushing pandemic earlier this spring lay heavy on the hearts of anglers across Ontario but for University of Western Ontario biology student Jacob Lasci, who is studying for his masters, news of the cancellation was nigh onto calamitous—then came the Salmon Shootout.

Mr. Lasci wasn’t seeking a piece of the hefty prize purse, however, his focus was on the catch itself. The masters student needs guts, salmon guts to be more precise, hoping clues from the innards of salmonid species will act as an oracle to help guide the hand of government as to whether it might prove necessary to stock prey fish such as alewives in order to shore up salmonid populations. He had hoped that the Manitoulin Expositor Salmon Classic would provide 50 samples from various species of salmonids to provide the data to further his research.

Mr. Lasci’s plan was simple. In return for tiny snippets from the guts of an angler’s catch, he would provide the cleaning. “I’m very fast,” he assured Salmon Shootout organizer Dave Patterson when he approached him for permission to set up shop at the South Baymouth weigh station. Practice makes perfect, as they say and Mr. Lasci has had a lot of practice.

“I am researching salmonid diet,” he told The Expositor as he was cleaning up the debris from an angler’s catch. The salmonids Mr. Lasci was seeking to sample include lake trout, brown trout, Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon and Coho salmon.

“I took a total of 16 salmonid samples (salmon and trout),” he reported following the Salmon Shootout. “Three Coho salmon, nine Chinook salmon, two lake trout and two rainbow trout.”

The process is more complex than simply opening up the fish and looking at what it had for lunch, but rather what those samples can tell us about the creature’s physiology across a wider span of time.

“Unfortunately, I won’t have any results until later this fall, after all my samples have undergone both stable isotope and DNA analysis,” he said, going on to provide insight into his working hypothesis. “I suspect the absence of a prey fish species, called alewife, which was once plentiful in Lake Huron has led to a decrease in abundance in Lake Huron’s diverse salmonid population.”

As to the reaction of the anglers to his offer of free cleaning, “All of the anglers I approached were more than happy to allow me to sample their catch,” he said.

“I’m hugely thankful to Dave Patterson and all of the anglers that allowed their catch to be a part of my study,” said Mr. Lasci.

Mr. Lasci’s brother Noah was providing a supporting role on this trip, although his focus lies in a very different direction. He is a recent masters in fine arts graduate and is looking forward to a career in digital design.

Anecdotal reports of a rebound in the salmon sports fishery running concurrent with a resurgence in the alewife population seem to support Mr. Lasci’s key question. Science being conducted by researchers like the UWO scientist will help to better inform the stewardship of the fishery seeking to balance the population.

“We were happy to help support Jacob’s efforts,” said Mr. Patterson, noting that the salmon sport fishing industry plays an important role in the marine tourism sector on Manitoulin Island, across the North Shore and the entire Great Lake region. “A healthy salmon population is in everyone’s best interests.”