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UT awarded $275,000 to help restore native fish habitat in Great Lakes shipping corridor

As part of a large-scale effort by state, national and international agencies to restore giant, ancient sturgeon and other native fish to the Great Lakes, the U.S. Geological Survey awarded The University of Toledo $275,000 for a year-long project to study how well Lake St. Clair serves as nursery habitat for those species to spawn and grow.

Lake St. Clair, which connects Lake Huron to Lake Erie along with the Detroit River and St. Clair River, is 17 times smaller than Lake Ontario and sometimes referred to as the sixth Great Lake.

“This is a critical habitat corridor that historically served as home to stocks of important native fish such as walleye, yellow perch, whitefish and sturgeon that migrated from Lake Erie to spawn,” said Dr. Christine Mayer, professor in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences and Lake Erie Center. “Our research will contribute to the ongoing multi-agency effort to restore fish habitat in this important Great Lakes passageway.”

Mayer said in the early 1900s the corridor was altered to accommodate shipping and industry, resulting in the destruction of rocky and shallow areas needed for young fish to spawn, feed and grow safely.

“This research project will examine how young fish use habitat within Lake St. Clair and help create a more complete picture of what habitats are still impaired and how future restoration of key habitat features may increase productivity of native fish species,” Mayer said.

The research team is made up of aquatic ecologists in the UT Department of Environmental Sciences. The team is led by Dr. Robin DeBruyne, an assistant research professor, and includes Jason Fischer, a PhD student who has studied how fish use constructed reefs and softened shorelines, as well as how future reefs can be positioned to minimize sand infiltration and maximize the benefit to fish.

UT also is involved in the project to restore lake sturgeon to Lake Erie. Most recently, researchers helped the Toledo Zoo secure $90,000 in federal grant money to build a sturgeon rearing facility along the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie, by verifying that spawning and nursery habitat still exist in the Maumee River to sustain a population of the fish that can live to be 150 years old and grow up to 300 pounds and eight feet long.

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