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Egg deposition by lithophilic-spawning fishes in the Detroit and Saint Clair Rivers, 2005–14

March 14, 2017

A long-term, multiseason, fish egg sampling program conducted annually on the Detroit (2005–14) and Saint Clair (2010–14) Rivers was summarized to identify where productive fish spawning habitat currently exists. Egg mats were placed on the river bottom during the spring and fall at historic spawning areas and candidate fish spawning habitat restoration sites throughout both rivers. Widespread evidence was found of lithophilic spawning by numerous native fish species, including walleye (Sander vitreus), lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), suckers (Catostomidae spp.), and trout-perch (Percopsis omiscomaycus). Walleye, lake whitefish, and suckers spp. spawned in nearly every region of each river in all years on both reef and nonreef substrates. Lake sturgeon eggs were collected almost exclusively over constructed reefs. Catch-per-unit effort of walleye, lake whitefish, and sucker eggs was much greater in the Detroit River than in the Saint Clair River, while Saint Clair River sites supported the greatest collections of lake sturgeon eggs. Collections during this study of lake sturgeon eggs on man-made spawning reefs suggest that artificial reefs may be an effective tool for restoring fish populations in the Detroit and Saint Clair Rivers; however, the quick response of lake sturgeon to spawn on newly constructed reefs and the fact that walleye, lake whitefish, and sucker eggs were often collected over substrate with little interstitial space to protect eggs from siltation and predators suggests that lack of suitable spawning habitat may continue to limit reproduction of lithophilic-spawning fish species in the Saint Clair-Detroit River System.

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