Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Photo of the Barney Devine © DNR File

The Barney Devine was rehabilitated in 1972.
© DNR File

April 2011

Changing of the guard

A sturdy old workhorse retires as a new boat gets shipshape and readied for service on Lake Michigan.

Paul Peeters

View footage of the construction of the R/V Coregonus:

For over seven decades the Barney Devine has been a stalwart, seaworthy and dependable ship plying Lake Michigan on behalf of the citizens of the state of Wisconsin. The 50-foot, 37-ton tug has been used to check commercial fishers, haul gill nets, conduct fisheries research, and take on a host of water quality studies and Great Lakes law enforcement. This chapter of Wisconsin's Lake Michigan history is about to come to an end and a new era launched. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is poised to accept delivery of a new research vessel for Lake Michigan fisheries work in the spring of 2011.

This story begins back in 1937 when the ship now dubbed the Research Vessel (R/V) Barney Devine was built by Burger Boat Company of Manitowoc, for Ludlow White, a commercial fisherman from Alpena, Mich. He purchased the vessel from Burger for $5,500 and paid Kahlenberg Brothers of Two Rivers, another $6,620 for the Kahlenberg engine to power the craft. Originally named the Albert J, the tug was used for commercial fishing for a few years.

The Wisconsin Conservation Department acquired the Albert J in late 1940 to provide law enforcement on Lake Michigan. The department paid $8,500 for the used vessel. Barney Devine, who was chief warden at the time, had died suddenly late in December 1940, and the next year the vessel was renamed in his honor.

The Barney was used by the Conservation Department's law enforcement program from 1941 into the late 1960s primarily to enforce commercial fishing rules in the days when inspection of commercial fish harvesting practices was contentious. It was also used on occasion for other department duties including research and helping out with other enforcement cases.

By the late 1960s, changes in the Lake Michigan commercial fishing regulations diminished the need for as much on-water inspection. In 1969, the Barney Devine was transferred to fisheries management for use as a research vessel. In 1972, a few years after the Wisconsin Conservation Department had been reorganized and combined forming the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, fisheries management had the R/V Barney Devine repowered with a six-cylinder Cummins diesel engine and had a new aluminum pilot house installed at a cost of $34,159.88. Virtually unchanged, the Barney looks practically the same today as it did after the shipyard work in 1972.

The Barney has been used by fisheries management to conduct surveys on Lake Michigan for the past four decades. It is well suited for lifting gill nets during all seasons and is very stable in all but the most extreme seas on the Great Lakes. Staff on the R/V Barney Devine typically conducts gill net surveys from early May through the end of December. Lakewide surveys also include spring and fall work to assess the populations and age structure of lake trout and burbot, as well as seasonal gill net surveys for juvenile lake whitefish, spawning lake whitefish, yellow perch and bloater chubs. In recent years the Barney Devine has also been used to conduct gill net surveys for Chinook salmon and as a resource for other fisheries or limnological research with DNR bureaus and various agencies.

The Barney is a conventional Great Lakes gill net tug with a steel hull. It was built before the days when small vessels had watertight bulkheads. These days, boats are built with multiple watertight compartments that help keep a vessel afloat if the hull is punctured or compromised. The Barney is a very tough, sturdy boat that can weather rough seas, but by today's standards, it would be considered a slow but steady craft. The displacement hull limits the Barney's speed to approximately 10 knots when helped out by a stiff tail wind and a following sea. Moving the vessel from Sturgeon Bay to Milwaukee for seasonal surveys can take 14-15 hours.

Although the Barney Devine has been well maintained and is still seaworthy, the vessel is now nearly 75 years old. The maintenance schedule and associated expense is expected to increase dramatically in the near future. Additionally, there have been a lot of technological advances in fisheries sampling gear since 1937 and the Barney Devine is not a suitable platform for making good use of many of those new techniques and tools like hydroacoustic and trawling equipment. As a fisheries research vessel, the Barney has become technologically obsolete.

Recognizing the ship's technical limits and advancing age, DNR fisheries staff has been working on plans to replace the vessel for over a decade. Fisheries staff worked closely with SeaCraft Design, naval architects in Sturgeon Bay, to design and develop a ship that would maintain our ability to efficiently let out and retrieve gill nets while expanding our abilities to use additional types of fisheries gear and limnological sampling equipment like bottom and mid-water trawls. While gill nets are hung in the water column with floats on the tops of the nets and weights on the bottoms, trawls are pulled through the water at mid-lake depths or near the bottom. For some species and ages of fish (especially small forage fish like smelt, alewives, young-of-the-year fish or juvenile lake whitefish) trawling may prove to be a more efficient sampling technique.

The new boat will also accommodate hydroacoustic gear specifically designed for fish surveys. These sophisticated "fish finders" use the same type of technology that sport anglers use on their fishing boats, but this gear is more powerful and connected to bigger computers. Hydroacoustic signals can sample the whole water column, count the targets (fish) and measure fish populations without actually catching the fish. While the boat runs transects, the acoustic sensors linked to a computer can analyze information while the vessel is underway. Large quantities of information about moving fish populations can be collected quickly over larger portions of Lake Michigan than could be sampled using nets.

Photo of gravel creek bed © Paul Peeters
Today, the Coregonus is the new kid on the lake.
© Paul Peeters

The new vessel will have an overall length of 60 feet with a 16-foot beam (width) and weigh approximately 34tons fully loaded. It was designed to continue meeting the needs we expressed so fisheries staff can continue all the important gill netting work we've historically done as well as conduct trawling and hydroacoustic work, accommodate our SCUBA diving surveys, and deploy equipment like underwater cameras, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), and various water sampling equipment. It will allow us to more efficiently and safely carry out our Lake Michigan fisheries research activities. The new vessel will be named the Research Vessel Coregonus. Coregonus is the genus name of nine species of fish native to Lake Michigan including the commercially important lake whitefish, lake herring and bloater chub.

Construction of the R/V Coregonus was awarded to Burger Boat Company of Manitowoc, the same company that built the Barney back in 1937! Construction began in mid-July of 2010 and was completed in January 2011.

We've been monitoring the progress and are pleased to report that by late July 2010, the shipyard had the forward and aft hull sections framed and the work crews were starting to plate the forward hull section. By early October the pilot house and superstructure of the vessel was ready to be placed on the completed hull. In mid December 2010, after the hull had been painted and many of the vessel systems had been installed, we had a better idea of what the vessel would look like when it was completed.

The design for the Coregonus incorporates many features that will dramatically improve vessel and crew safety. The R/V Coregonus will have four watertight bulkheads and five watertight compartments, which would keep the vessel afloat if the hull was punctured. There is an automatic fire suppression system in the engine compartment. Cold water survival suits, a U.S. Coast Guard approved 10-man life raft, and USCG approved emergency positioning beacon (EPIRB) are all part of the vessel safety equipment. The pilot house windshield and the open rear deck are designed so they can be heated to prevent icing during periods of freezing spray. An onboard deck crane will facilitate loading and unloading of equipment and samples.

One of the steps in the ship's assembly is more a matter of tradition than safety. Brandon Bastar (DNR vessel captain) and Jeremy Haese (boat manager for Burger Boats) discussed where to place the ship's bell. A ship's bell is largely symbolic by today's standards, though it was once an important piece of a vessel's safety equipment and is often viewed as a ship's soul, so placing the bell is an important matter to its crew.

Sea trials for the R/V Coregonus are expected to start after ice out in 2011, as the crew takes a few shakedown runs to learn how the ship handles and to ensure that the Coregonus will be ready for surveys at the start of the 2011 field season. The ship should improve both vessel and crew efficiency. The R/V Coregonus has an aluminum semi-planing hull, multiple watertight compartments and onboard laboratory equipment. She will be equipped with twin Caterpillar C12 diesel engines that are EPA Tier 2 emissions certified. That means the engines will be environmentally clean with low emissions, easy on fuel and economical to run. Further, the craft will have a top end cruising speed of approximately 20 knots, which will cut transit time on Lake Michigan in half. Onboard lab facilities, complete with a motion compensating scale, will permit fisheries staff to process fish on the water while in transit instead of having to wait until the ship gets back to shore.

The opportunity to continue our survey work more safely and efficiently is an exciting improvement for the Lake Michigan fisheries staff. We are looking forward to using the vessel's advanced survey equipment and techniques to continue our fisheries research on Lake Michigan.

For more details regarding the development and building of the R/V Coregonus, including a pictorial chronology and short video of the ship under construction, check out Lake Michigan Research Boat Takes Shape.

Fisheries Biologist Paul Peeters recently retired as DNR's lakeshore fisheries team supervisor based in Sturgeon Bay.