For the last 20 years or so the dominant news out of the Great Lakes has been about invasive species, pollution, high and low water levels and other threats to the largest group of freshwater lakes in North America — and the place we call home.
Most recently, the biggest threat — besides the daily, ongoing battle against pollution of all kinds — has been the Asian carp, a massive fish brought to America decades ago by some southern fish farmers who wanted them to clean out their ponds.
Predictably, the fish escaped into the Lower Mississippi watershed and have been eating their way north ever since.
A month ago a 53-inch, 82-pound carp was caught in Flatfoot Lake, very close to Chicago’s Lake Calumet, which is connected to Lake Michigan by the Calumet River. Scientists say the voracious Asian Carp could decimate Lake Michigan’s commercial fishing industry if it ever gets a foothold in the big lake.
On Sept. 14, though, there was good news about fish and lake Michigan. On that day 370 small sturgeon fry were released along the banks of the Manistee River as part of a long-term effort by the Little River Band of the Ottawa Indians to re-populate the lake with sturgeon.
Marty Holtgren, senior inland fisheries biologist for the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, has worked for the band’s sturgeon re-population program for more than 10 years. The success of the current effort won’t be known for a few more decades — when the small sturgeon mature enough to return to the river to spawn.
This is hardly the only effort of its kind on the lakes. The Cheboygan-based Black River Chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow’s permanent stream-side rearing facility turned out 15,600 sturgeon fry this summer, according to group president Brenda Archambo.
Because of a capacity issue, Sturgeon for Tomorrow had to release some fry earlier than it would have otherwise. About 2,000 were given to a new stream-side facility operated by the Petoskey-based Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, 6,000 were held by the Black River facility for its fall release and the rest were turned loose early, Archambo said.
Sturgeon have been present in the Great Lakes for thousands of years, and their numbers had dwindled until it was feared they could become extinct. Groups like Sturgeon for Tomorrow and the Little River and Little Traverse bands are on their way to saving what Archambo calls a “living fossil.”
“They are the elder statesmen of Michigan’s fish species,” she said.
The Great Lakes need more good news fish stories.