Green Guide

Fish using restored river habitat

Posted 1:01 a.m. Sunday

— Nick Jagelewski was fishing behind the Port Huron Wastewater Treatment Plant. The Marysville man had one walleye on his stringer.

"I had a day off," he said. "I thought I'd come down here and give it a shot."

The St. Clair River long has been a top-notch fishery — and river advocates hope a series of 10 habitat improvement projects recently completed along the river will amp up that reputation.

"Our data definitely shows a good variety of fish species, native fishes and sport fishes," said Ed Roseman, a fisheries biologist at the United States Geological Survey's Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor, noting researchers are seeing a diverse fish community with multiple life stages ranging from larvae through juvenile to adult.

The Times Herald (http://bwne.ws/2fljqhM ) reports that since 2010, the federal government has spent about $21 million through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to restore fish and wildlife habitat in the St. Clair River. Roseman and other researchers have been monitoring the river the past two years to see if the investment has paid off.

"We have some preliminary results," he said. "We have done two years of post-restoration assessment and we are seeing a pretty good diversity of fishes and the mudpuppy, as well, is a species we are seeing."

Mudpuppies are large aquatic salamanders native to the area. Their numbers had been reduced because of habitat loss and because anglers kill them when they catch them. Paulette Duhaime, U.S. vice chairwoman of the St. Clair River Binational Public Advisory Council, said the habitat projects seem to be helping the mudpuppies in the southern reaches of the river.

"Mudpuppies, which are native to the river, our shoreline projects here at Cottrellville and the Marine City Drain, where there were no mudpuppies before, they've counted maybe a dozen," she said.

Those two projects involved putting cobble in the river and installing rock breakwalls to create calm areas for fish and other wildlife.

"That seems to be a pretty good habitat," Roseman said. "They like interstitial spaces — cavities between rocks.

"Even up at the Blue Water River Walk, below the Great Lakes Maritime Center, we've caught mudpuppies. They're pretty sensitive to contamination and low oxygen. It's another testament to the fact our water quality is improving."

Sheri Faust, president of the Friends of the St. Clair River stewardship group, said the projects started with a fish and wildlife management plan for the river in 2011.

"We looked at areas that would have the biggest impact on fish and wildlife, preferably on public land," she said.

"... The Blue Water River Walk is a fish and wildlife project. It truly is a fish and wildlife habitat project that helped meet the goals of the St. Clair River fish and wildlife management plan."

Roseman said researchers are seeing evidence of anglers at the habitat restoration sites.

"We have caught some really good walleye," he said. "We do electric fishing and some net surveys."

He said other species include northern pike, smallmouth bass and a variety of panfish such as perch and bluegills.

"In these shore zone areas that have been created, they have created slack water areas," Roseman said. "We are seeing vegetation growing in some of those areas, and they provide habitat for some of those slower water habitat-preferring fish."

He said burbot, a freshwater cod, are showing up in surveys.

"We started catching juveniles and adults in respectable numbers the last couple of years suggesting there is a resident population in the St. Clair River," Roseman said.

Researchers also are seeing a response by lake sturgeon to spawning habitat in the form of three artificial reefs built in the Middle Channel and at Harts Light and Pointe aux Chenes.

"We had an immediate response by lake sturgeon," Roseman said. "They spawned all over these reefs, some of the highest egg densities we've seen.

"That was a celebratory moment when we had our sturgeon spawn on them."

Roseman said the USGS will continue to survey the habitat restoration projects.

"We've done two years of what I would call intensive assessment work," he said. "We are moving into a longer-term monitoring stage. It won't be as intensive, but we still will have our finger on the pulse of the system."

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