Smith: 'Back by popular demand,' Great Lakes Fish Tournament brings March Madness-type competition to the water

The staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Green Bay conservation office has started a fish-themed "March Madness" competition. It seeks to raise awareness of Great Lakes fish species and asks the public to vote for their favorites in daily Facebook posts.
The staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Green Bay conservation office has started a fish-themed "March Madness" competition. It seeks to raise awareness of Great Lakes fish species and asks the public to vote for their favorites in daily Facebook posts.

The Marquette Golden Eagles fell Sunday in their second game of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, a premature end to what many hoped would be a deep run for the team in the "Big Dance."

But your chance to root for a Wisconsin tourney entry isn't over. And I'm not talking about the Wisconsin Badgers in the NIT.

March Madness extends to the water, too.

For the second year, staff at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Green Bay Conservation Office has organized its Great Lakes Fish Tournament.

What is the Great Lakes Fish Tournament?

The competition pits fish species in a popular vote on the office's Facebook page.

The event is "back by popular demand," said Shannon Cressman, lead biological science technician in the Service's Green Bay office who also helps run its Facebook page.

A peach blossom jellyfish (top left, next to a penny for perspective) and the flathead catfish are among species in a competition organized by the Green Bay Conservation Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A peach blossom jellyfish (top left, next to a penny for perspective) and the flathead catfish are among species in a competition organized by the Green Bay Conservation Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It's fun, of course," Cressman said. "But our main goal is to engage with the public and raise awareness for fish species in and around the Great Lakes."

The Green Bay Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office includes four programs: the Great Lakes Fish Tagging and Recovery Lab; Aquatic Invasive Species; Partnerships and Habitat; and Native Species.

The fish competition is an office-wide collaboration, Cressman said. In true scientific fashion, the office staff used a randomized process to select members from its ranksto enter species in the tourney

The grand prize will be "bragging rights," Cressman said.

But there are no losers if the public interacts with the tourney and learns more about fish in Wisconsin's waters.

The American eel (top) is facing off against the lake sturgeon in a fish-themed competition run by the Green Bay Conservation Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The American eel (top) is facing off against the lake sturgeon in a fish-themed competition run by the Green Bay Conservation Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fourteen species were included in the competition. I was tempted to inquire about the number (why not 16, for example) But I reminded myself that these are biologists, not bracketologists and the point is education and engagement.

The fish range from those that were swimming in area waters even before humans arrived to recent introductions known as aquatic invasive species (AIS).

Brook trout is the No. 1 seed in Great Lakes bracket-style tournament

Brook trout earned the No. 1 seed, a worthy ranking for the native, beautifully-colored trout.

No. 2 is the grass carp, an AIS that has been found in the Badger State for several decades. It's high seed is not a reflection of its value to the state's ecosystem but of the importance of the public to be able to recognize and if possible remove the troublesome fish.

Next is the lake sturgeon, Wisconsin's largest fish and special source of pride in the Winnebago System, home to one of the world's largest populations of sturgeon.

The rainbow darter (top) and walleye are among the fish in a "March Madness" competition designed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees at the Green Bay Conservation Office.
The rainbow darter (top) and walleye are among the fish in a "March Madness" competition designed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees at the Green Bay Conservation Office.

Fourth is the rainbow darter, a spectacularly-colored fish found in streams and rivers.

After the top four seeds, in order 5-14 are the flathead catfish, Eurasian ruffe (an AIS), river redhorse, Arctic grayling (a fish that was native to the region and later extirpated but is planned for restoration in Michigan), spotted gar, burbot, sea lamprey (AIS), peach blossom jellyfish (AIS), walleye and American eel.

The competition started Monday and will include one contest each day (except on weekends). In one early result, the rainbow darter won by a "landslide" over the walleye, Cressman said.

The final is scheduled April 7.

"Upsets happen," Cressman said. "We hope many residents throughout the Great Lakes region will take part this year and learn more about our fish and what makes them so important to our waters."

The USFWS Green Bay Conservation Office Facebook pages is at www.facebook.com/GreenBayFWCO and its website is at fws.gov.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Great Lakes Fish Tournament shares in March Madness event on Facebook