Whitefish spawning grounds discovered on Elk Rapids shores
By - Brooks Vanderbush, Contributing Writer
(June 13, 2013)
A surprising discovery in the waters that border Elk Rapids Harbor has put an unexpected twist on the ongoing debate concerning the future of the shores and structures present within and around those waters.
“We have discovered a critical spawning habitat near the Elk Rapids Harbor that is being used by Lake Trout, Cisco (aka Lake Herring), and Whitefish,” says the DNR’s Randall Claramunt. “The critical spawning habitat is comprised of limestone cobble substrates with ideal characteristics to adequately protect native fish eggs all winter (spawning occurs in the fall and the fry hatch out in the spring). The reproduction of native fish in Lake Michigan is threatened because of invasive species and habitat degradation.”
Why is this discovery so important and unique?
“Native fish are an important aspect of the Great Lakes fish community,” explains Claramunt. “Lake Trout were the dominant top predator before the collapse of most native fish species during the 1950s and 60s in the Great Lakes. Since that decline, Lake Trout have failed to sustain their populations via natural reproduction. Lake whitefish, however, have recovered and the recovery is driven by the prime spawning habitats such as those found at Elk Rapids. Early studies (by Michigan State University) in the 1970s suggested that the reefs near Elk Rapids were critical for recruitment of Lake whitefish. The story behind Cisco is still being unfolded as they were thought to be non-existent since the 1960s decline in most of the Great Lakes except for populations in Lake Superior and Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. However, we’ve discovered what seems to be the only remnant Cisco stock in Lake Michigan and it is slowly recovering via the productive spawning habitat at Elk Rapids.”
This discovery, according to Claramunt, makes the management of the surrounding lands and waters incredibly important, thus the decisions made by the various Elk Rapids governing bodies that have control over those lands and waters ones that should not be taken lightly, says Claramunt.
“The management of the Dam Beach and the harbor is very much related to the health of the native fish spawning reefs,” Claramunt said. “Instead of considering this a problem, I believe that the community of Elk Rapids should be proud of the quality of choices that they’ve made to protect the shoreline and take ownership of the impacts of recovery of the aforementioned native fish. With that recognition, however, comes an understanding that future activities and management of the beach and harbor could have both positive and negative impacts on the native fish stocks. We (MDNR Fisheries) appreciate the opportunity to work with the community of Elk Rapids on making choices that benefit both the community and the native fish in our waters. I hope that members of the Elk Rapids community promote more awareness about the critical spawning reefs and an understanding that the community’s actions have a substantial impact on native fish populations, and that they can either be positive or negative, and how appreciative we are that the community is supportive of our work to protect critical spawning habitats to rehabilitate native fish species in the Great Lakes,” said Claramunt.
(June 16, 2005)
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