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Grand Traverse Bay

Fighting for Our Fisheries

The Nature Conservancy is restoring spawning reefs for lake trout, lake whitefish and lake herring in Grand Traverse Bay.

A summer weekend in the Great Lakes wouldn’t be the same without a traditional Friday night fish fry. But our populations of iconic fish, such as lake whitefish, lake trout and lake herring, have been drastically reduced by overfishing, habitat loss, and threats from invasive species.

The fight to bring our native fisheries back to what they once were won’t be easy. But the Conservancy has the right tools and the right team to get the job done.

For starters, the Conservancy is working to restore spawning reefs in Grand Traverse Bay. Lake trout, lake whitefish and lake herring use these reefs like nurseries to protect their eggs from predators and the relentless action of the waves. But few of these reefs remain intact today, leaving native fish with few safe places to lay their eggs. By adding limestone rocks to degraded reefs, the Conservancy hopes to create better spawning grounds for native fish.

While restoring the reefs is an important step forward, there are other threats to our native fish lurking below the surface, such as round goby and rusty crawfish. These two invasive species are egg predators that concentrate in spawning areas, where they can be found feasting on the eggs and larvae of native fish.

The Conservancy and its partners are researching, developing and testing the next round of treatment methods that will give us safe and effective ways to fight these invasive species. Trapping methods are already being used to catch rusty crayfish on the reefs in Grand Traverse Bay, and we’ve tested other methods at a facility on Beaver Island. We’ve also formed partnerships with Central Michigan University and the state of Minnesota, which bring new allies, new resources, and new ideas to the fight.

Our weakened native fisheries face an uphill battle against invasive species. We hope that what we discover through this next phase of testing and research, combined with our pre-existing strategies, can help restore our aquatic food web and secure our native fisheries for years to come.

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