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Lake sturgeon response to a spawning reef constructed in the Detroit river

January 1, 2011

Prior to the First World War, the bi-national Detroit River provided vast areas of functional fish spawning and nursery habitat. However, ongoing conflicting human uses of these waters for activities such as waste disposal, water withdrawals, shoreline development, shipping, recreation, and fishing have altered many of the chemical, physical, and biological processes of the Detroit River. Of particular interest and concern to resource managers and stakeholders is the significant loss and impairment of fish spawning and nursery habitat that led to the decline in abundance of most fish species using this ecosystem. Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) populations for example, were nearly extirpated by the middle of the 20th century, leaving only a small fraction of their former population. Fisheries managers recognized that the loss of suitable fish spawning habitat is a limiting factor in lake sturgeon population rehabilitation in the Detroit River. In efforts to remediate this beneficial water use impairment, a reef consisting of a mixture of natural rock and limestone was constructed at the upstream end of Fighting Island in 2008. This paper focuses on the response by lake sturgeon to the different replicates of suitable natural materials used to construct the fish spawning habitat at Fighting Island in the Detroit River. Pre-construction fisheries assessment during 2006–2008 showed that along with the presence of adult lake sturgeon, spawning conditions were favorable. However, no eggs were found in assessments conducted prior to reef construction. The 3300 m2 Fighting Island reef was placed at the upstream end of the island in October of 2008. The construction design included 12 spawning beds of three replicates each consisting of either round rock, small or large (shot-rock) diameter limestone or a mixture thereof. An observed response by spawning lake sturgeon occurred the following year when spawning-ready adults (ripe), viable eggs, and larvae were collected during May and June 2009. Additional eggs and spawning-ready adults were found in 2010 (no larval sampling occurred in 2010) as well as collection of three age-0 juvenile lake sturgeon in bottom trawls fished downstream of the reef during July 2010. Spawning lake sturgeon showed no repeatable preference for any of the four particular substrate types but showed a high degree of preference for the island side of the channel, where faster water current velocities occurred. In 2009, overall lake sturgeon egg densities across all replicates averaged 102 m-2 and seven larvae were found in night drift-net samples. In 2010, average lake sturgeon egg density was 12 m-2 and three age-0 lake sturgeon averaging 120 mm TL were collected in bottom trawls in deepwater (∼8 m depth) downstream from the constructed reef. These results demonstrated successful reproduction by lake sturgeon on a man-made reef and suggested that additions and improvements to fish spawning habitat could enhance reproduction and early life history survival of lake sturgeon in the Detroit River.

Publication Year 2011
Title Lake sturgeon response to a spawning reef constructed in the Detroit river
DOI 10.1111/j.1439-0426.2011.01829.x
Authors Edward F. Roseman, B. Manny, J. Boase, M. Child, G. Kennedy, J. Craig, K. Soper, R. Drouin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Applied Ichthyology
Index ID 70042205
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Great Lakes Science Center