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U.S. Geological Survey - Great Lakes Science Center

GLSC History

The Great Lakes Science Center traces its beginnings to 1871 when Congress, by joint resolution, established the United States Fish Commission and charged it with responsibility for investigations and inquiries concerning the supply of food fishes of the coasts and lakes of the United States and the determination of protective, prohibitory, or precautionary measures to be adopted. Initial investigations began in 1871 in Lake Michigan - the Lake with the longest shoreline within the United States and the largest number of fisheries. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its two Bureaus, the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife evolved from these early investigations.

Activities of the Bureau in the Great Lakes and Central Region prior to 1920 were limited to infrequent surveys, mostly statistical, of the fisheries of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River system and to the operation of fish-cultural stations. The earliest continuing work on the Great Lakes began in 1920 when the Bureau began supporting the research of Dr. Walter N. Koelz and Dr. John Van Oosten at the University of Michigan. These early studies focused on the taxonomy and life histories of coregonids (whitefishes, ciscoes, chubs).

The current Great Lakes Science Center was established in 1927 as the Great Lakes Biological Laboratory, with John Van Oosten as its Director. This program was started as a consequence of the furor generated by the collapse of the cisco fishery in Lake Erie in 1925.

The Great Lakes Science Center has always resided in the Department of Interior but has changed bureaus and undergone several name changes over the last half century. The chronology is outlined below:

United States Fish Commission 1871

First investigations into Great Lakes fisheries. The United States Fish Commission was established by Congress on 9 February 1871. Organized into three divisions (Inquiry respecting Food-Fishes and Fishing Grounds, Fisheries, and Fish Culture) the U.S. Fish Commission's investigate the causes for the decrease of commercial fish and other aquatic animals in the coastal and inland waters of the United States, to recommend remedies to the U.S. Congress and the states, and to oversee restoration efforts.

On 14 February 1903, Congress placed the U.S. Fish Commision within the newly created U.S. Department of Commerce and reorganized the bureau as the United States Bureau of Fisheries. (from Wikipedia)

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Fisheries, 1927-1939

1927: Organization founded as the Great Lakes Biological Laboratory The Great Lakes fishery investigations are led by Dr. John Van Oosten in response to problems with the Lake Erie cisco fishery. These investigations formed the early beginnings of what would become the Great Lakes Science Center.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Fisheries, 1939

U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, 1940-1956

The establishment of the Great Lakes Biological Laboratory in 1927, with John Van Oosten as its Director, was a consequence of the furor generated by the collapse of the cisco fishery in Lake Erie in 1925. Subsequent crises have dominated the history of the Laboratory as described by Dr. Ralph Hile, editor and fishery biologist:

"Born in the crisis arising from the disappearance of the Lake Erie cisco, Great Lakes Fishery Investigations has forever since experienced the varying fortunes that inevitably befall an organization whose very life depends on the existence of emergencies that cry for attention. Seldom has money been adequate to the task assigned; commonly it was supplemented by funds from State and private agencies interested in particular problems; never until most recently could long-term researches [sic] be set up that would contribute to a fundamental understanding of the fish populations and of the factors that control their level of productivity."
The support of biological research on the Great Lakes first approached a level consistent with bare minimal needs in 1950 after the most devastating of all disasters, the destruction of major fisheries of the upper Great Lakes by the parasitic sea lamprey, was well advanced. Other biological research grew more slowly, but initial studies were started in new areas of research and for the first time continuing investigations of selected fisheries became possible.

The sea lamprey, a marine species that gained access to the upper Great Lakes after the Welland Canal was built around Niagara Falls, spread throughout the Great Lakes during the 1940s and destroyed the lake trout and lake whitefish commercial fisheries. We tested over 4,000 chemicals to find one to destroy the lamprey when they were most vulnerable—as larvae in tributaries. This compound, TFM (3-trifluromethyl-4-nitrophenol), was found in 1958 and is still used for lamprey control. Other studies initiated during the 1950s were on the biology and population dynamics of commercially important species, on the restoration of lake trout, and on the limnology of the Great Lakes.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, 1956-1970

In 1956, the Bureau of Fisheries and the Bureau of Biological Survey were separated again. The new Fish and Wildlife Act creates the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, including two Bureaus: the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, the descendant of the original U.S. Fish Commission, of which the Center is part, and the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. Through 1958, the Center’s program is still referred to as Great Lakes Fishery Investigations. In 1959, the Center began using the name, Great Lakes Biological Laboratory in its annual Program and Progress report.

In 1965, the center moved to its newly constructed headquarters on the North Campus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. An active limnology program focused on problems caused by pollution in Lake Erie took place during this decade. The decline of Hexagenia, a pollution intolerant benthic invertebrate, and the ionic release of high concentrations of chemicals from sediment in the anaerobic hypolimnion of Lake Erie were documented. Seasonal changes in nitrate, phosphate, and silica concentrations were identified as the driving force behind summer blooms of blue-green algae in the Western Basin of Lake Erie. The decision to control phosphate rather than nitrate discharge into the Lake was based on our finding that some blue-green algae are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the absence of dissolved nitrogen and were thriving in the nitrate and silica depleted but phosphate-rich summer waters of Lake Erie. Other accomplishments of the laboratory in the 1960s included its role in drastically reducing the sea lamprey population and in obtaining data on DDT residues in fish, which served as evidence supporting the nationwide ban on the use of DDT in 1972. Chemists also found that DDT accumulated in fatty tissues of fish, and removal of fat before cooking significantly reduced DDT concentrations in serving portions. In response to illness and death from botulism in smoked fish, microbiologists developed a method for preparing smoked fish that deterred Botulinum growth. During the heyday of the alewife crises, alewife were harvested and used as food for mink and chickens, the animals became sick on this diet because alewife contain the enzyme thiaminase which destroyed the B-vitamin thiamine in the animals. Researchers at the Center were able to inactivate thiaminase with heat and showed that cooking alewives before use as animal food resolved the problem.

Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, 1970-1974

In 1970, under Executive Order 11564, President Richard M. Nixon established the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of the Department of Commerce. The new organization is directed toward a better understanding of the Nation’s living marine resources, the environment in which they are found, and the interaction between the two. The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF) is transferred to NOAA on October 3rd and is renamed the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Department of the Interior retained the functions related to certain Great Lakes fisheries, and the Center was transferred from the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries to the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife in accordance with President’s reorganization plan. In addition, in 1970, the Center was renamed the Great Lakes Fishery Laboratory.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1974-1993

In 1974, the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, which remained in the Department of the Interior, is renamed by an act of Congress in April 1974 (16 U.S.C. 742b) as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1986, the Center was renamed as the National Fisheries Center--Great Lakes. In 1987, the Center became known as the National Fisheries Research Center--Great Lakes.

National Biological Service (Survey), 1993-1995

In 1993, the Center is transferred to the newly created National Biological Survey (which was renamed National Biological Service in 1995) and renamed the Great Lakes Center. In 1994 it is renamed again as the Great Lakes Science Center. As part of the reorganization, six research scientists from the Great Lakes cluster parks of the National Park Service are transferred to the Center. They (a fishery scientist at Voyageurs, a plant ecologist at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and four scientists and two laboratory technicians at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) remain at their stations and continue to work on problems in national parks throughout the Great Lakes system. Investigations include endangered species, community ecology, exotic species control, landscape ecology, fire ecology, paleoecology, and fishery sciences.

The Center, as a result of its data gathering in the 1970's and 80's, played a key role in developing a technical bases for interagency management of the walleye in Lake Erie, and made important contributions toward understanding the biology and population dynamics of other major species necessary for effective fishery management. Restoration of naturally reproducing lake trout populations in all five Great Lakes was an especially important objective. Several studies focused on evaluating the current quality of lake trout spawning habitats, and the way various strains of stocked lake trout performed under stress from contaminants, fishing, sea lamprey, predation, and other sources.

Considerable effort had been expended since the 1970's to provide an empirical basis for evaluating the effects of navigation (particularly winter navigation) on Great Lakes fish and their habitat. Center biologists were key figures in documenting the spread and devastation of the zebra mussel and providing vital information on its life history. Staff focused on monitoring and gathering information on the natural history of the ruffe, another potentially disruptive non-native fish. Chemists developed a way to predict from its structure which chemicals are potentially harmful and can distinguish between naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals in fish.

U.S. Geological Survey, 1996-current

In 1996, the National Biological Service was abolished and the Great Lakes Science Center moved into the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of its newly created Biological Resources Division (BRD). The formation of the BRD added an important living resources dimension to the USGS earth sciences orientation, thus making it possible for the bureau to bring physical plus biological science to natural resource management problems. The mission of the BRD was to work with others to provide the scientific understanding and technologies needed to support the sound management and conservation of our Nation's biological resources. The Vision and Mission statements of the Great Lakes Science Center were stepped down from the larger vision and mission of the BRD. Research in the new millennium primarily focused on deepwater science, nearshore and coastal ecology, invasive species, and restoration ecology. Additional science initiatives pursued include beach health, thiamine, and native fish restoration in the Huron-Erie Corridor.

In 2010, a USGS realignment establishes the Ecosystems Mission Area; an outgrowth of the BRD. The Ecosystems Mission Area now comprises the Fisheries, Wildlife, Status and Trends, Environments and Invasive Species Programs and the Cooperative Research Units; all former programs of the BRD. The Ecosystems Mission Area works cooperatively with Federal and State agencies and outside organizations to develop and share information that describes and assesses the Nation's biological resources. These activities reflect a strong commitment to achieving objectives through partnerships. It is under the Ecosystems Mission Area that the Great Lakes Science Center now primarily operates.

The Great Lakes Science Center is currently developing a new five-year Strategic Science Plan (last revised May 2005). The new science plan will align closely with the new 10-year Strategic Plan for USGS Ecosystem Science (also currently under development) and the science directions stated in the USGS Circular 1309 ‘Facing Tomorrow’s Challenges – U.S. Geological Survey Science in the Decade 2007-2017’. As we move forward into the next decade, Center research will focus on six core thematic areas: Coastal Ecosystems, Deepwater Ecosystems, Ecosystem Health, Emerging Issues, Invasive Species, and Restoration Ecology. Additional science initiatives may emerge as information needs arise, such as the recent need for research on Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie.

Although the Center name has changed, the mission has remained relatively similar over time in that the Center has always been at the forefront of providing information that supports scientific management of aquatic resources in the Great Lakes region and has maintained a tradition of working with management agencies.

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