Kaye E. Barker

Kiyi was built in 2000, is 107 feet long and flies a U.S. flag

L. L. Smith, Jr.
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220521-369The research vessel Kiyi is based in Ashland, Wisconsin and is operated by the Lake Superior Biological Station of the U.S. Geological Survey. Each year, they visit 89 stations around the Lake and take samples of the fish population with a method that fisherman are not allowed to use: nets. Their job is to sample, sort and assess the fish population of Lake Superior.
Above and below, she arrived Duluth on May 21, 2001
They call it an “annual fish community assessment”. They do a bottom trawl of the lake at each station, pull the net into the boat, and dump the catch onto big steel tables in the boat’s main work-area.
While the ship then moves on to the next station on the lake, the fish are counted, identified, sorted by species, measured and opened up. The open-up part determines what the fish have been eating, or as the scientists phrase it, who is eating whom.
With lots of computer power aboard, they are able to make a good estimate of the numbers of that species in the area from the sample. The fishing-regulation people in the states and the two countries that border Lake Superior are the direct beneficiaries of their work. The work of the Kiyi provides the state fishing commissions with accurate data from which they can set and publish annual fishing limits that provide sportsmen with enjoyment and also maintain a healthy lake environment for the fish and the rest of us.
The 107-foot Kiyi is the largest USGS research vessel on the Great Lakes. The Kiyi can conduct surveys and research in deeper water than was possible before with the boat she replaced, the 54-year old Siscowet, a much smaller boat.
The ship carries a crew of nine, including an engineer and a cook. Two scientists and two interns make up the rest of the people on board. In fact, the boat is a part of the Great Lakes Science Center, and is the Lake Superior Biological Station. Their work has been done over the years from within a wide variety of government departments. It was started with the United States Fish Commission in 1871 and now makes its home within the US Department of the Interior.
There is a continuing Duluth connection, even when the Kiyi is out on Lake Superior or back home in Ashland. Usually, much of the catch of the day is returned to the Lake although there are obviously a number of casualties given the necessary tests they perform. When I was talking to them in 2002,  the Great Lakes Aquarium and the Kiyi were collecting fresh water fish, and the Kiyi was was doing the same. The Kiyi threw their fish back to the lake; the Aquarium wanted fish to keep. It was an easy step to take along some Aquarium staffers on one of their trips. The results of that trip, and others, now swim in several tanks at the Aquarium. Specifically, the Kiyi contributed deepwater sculpin, burbot and 9-spine sticklebacks to the fish population at the Aquarium.
For 14 years, biological technician Lori Evrard on the Kiyi has been hitching up the 22-foot Boston whaler they call the Coaster from the US Geological Survey’s Lake Superior Headquarters in Ashland, Wisconsin. Three times a year, she brings it to Duluth to assess the fish population of the St. Louis River. Below, the Coaster in the St. Louis River in October, 2002. Lori stands at the wheel.

She got started with this task in the 1980’s when an exotic species called ruffe was noticed in the River. Today, in part because of Lori’s work, we know that the ruffe has become the most common fish in the St. Louis River. Native to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the ruffe is a small spiny fish that grows quickly and has a very high reproductive rate. (Picture of Ruffe below: Credit: John Lyons/Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources) It quickly adapts to its surroundings and competes with native fish for food. Additionally, its spiny back makes it less palatable to would be predators like the walleye or pike. ruffe

Ruffe are usually no larger than 5 inches long ; they find refuge in the dark water at the bottom of the river. By 1995, the population had begun to level off, but there are other exotic species to take their place, the ubiquitous zebra mussel for one and the goby for another.
The St. Louis River is divided into 3 distinct habitats. The St. Louis River at the Duluth end is a working river. The ship channels are watched closely and dredged often to maintain a depth of 28 feet. That allows commercial cargo ships to navigate safely as they move up the river to the CN Dock, Midwest Energy and the other working docks on the banks of the river.
The second is the deeper parts of the river that have not been dredged and are not used by ships. And last, the areas of the river they call the flats, usually close to shore where the depth is much less than 28 feet, and usually less than 8 feet.

A trawl hangs off the stern of the Coaster: the contraption includes a net, and heavy weights often called doors (that coincidentally look like doors) that fall to the bottom of the river when the trawl is dropped, and drag along the river bed. Behind the doors are chains, meant to kick up the silt on the bottom and expose some of the creatures that spend time at the very bottom of the river to the open mouth of the net, attached to the doors.
Once exposed, and kicked up a few feet, they are scooped up by the net that follows the door and chains. Creatures caught in the net then wait to be pulled up and placed on their new home, the steel table at the bow of the boat.
220813-159Our catch for the three trawls I was on the boat for totaled 25 ruffe, 1 trout-perch, 1 round goby and many zebra mussels.I had no idea what to expect. Lori told me they once brought up over 3,300 ruffe in their net. With those numbers, they can estimate the fish population in the river using a smaller sample. Usually, the net brings up around 500 ruffe, along with many other creatures.

220813-156On my trip, the catch was anything but normal. As it turns out, there is more than fish in the St. Louis River. For over a century, boats have been coming into the river from all over the world, discharging cargo on arrival or loading cargo to take out. Over the years, a lot of stuff has been left on the bottom, one of which was caught in our net.

After a half hour of pulling, they were able to bring up the net, now loaded with some kind of very heavy steel contraption that appeared to have once been a part of a boat. Its only job now was providing a nesting-place for one of the more offensive exotic species in the river, the zebra mussel.

Funding for the project ran out, but the folks at the Ashland office keep coming over to measure the health of the river and maintain their yearly statistics that measure the growth of the exotic fish population.


  1. Brenda Greenhoe says:

    Welcome to Grand Marais! Enjoy your time here. May it
    be meaningful and productive for you. And the weather
    straightens out a bit.

  2. Dan Szymanski says:

    Today the KIYI is docked at the mouth of the Ontonagon river, at lake Superior, Ontonagon Mi. Very nice looking ship.

  3. Edw.J.Reining says:

    Thanks for the info on the Kiyi. I just saw it dounbound through the Soo Locks. 6,8/2014. Very interesting looking vessel.

  4. Tristin (loves ships) says:

    Is she bigger than the Blue Heron

    • Tristin – Yes, Kiyi is larger than the Blue Heron. She is 20 feet longer, and quite a bit higher deck-wise. Seeing that she is tied up at the DECC right now, I am hoping to get a photo of the two of them together tomorrow (5/31) during the Science Friday event. They do look very similar from a distance though!

  5. My daughter, a Park Point resident, used to hate getting “bridged.” Now that we’re connected via the web cam, I get a heads up and the sound effects. She get info on the boat/ship. Thanks!

  6. My daughter, a Park Point resident, used to hate getting “bridged.” Now that we’re connected via the web cam I get the sound effects as well as a heads up when she’s caught at the lift bridge. I keep the web cam but a key stroke away. I’m usually able to tell her the name of the ship, where it’s from and what it’s carrying. It’s also a great way to get my own photos of the boats and ships, especially the tall ships when they’re in town. We use the Shipping News to tour the docks when I’m in Duluth. Thanks a million.

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