The MRN invests in a project on the Au Sable River | News, Sports, Jobs
By SARAH LAPSHAN
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Ed Eisch knows fish.
After more than 30 years of working in the state’s fish production program — doing just about every job from technician to hatchery biologist, and now overseeing the entire effort — Eisch even understands the minute details of what it takes to operate the state’s six hatcheries.
These Michigan Department of Natural Resources sites at Alanson, Beulah, Harietta, Manistique, Marquette, and Mattawan produce the fish eggs and fry that eventually store the state’s lakes, streams, and ponds, supplementing the natural production of fish in these waters. This includes an average of 6-7 million trout and salmon from MNR cold water facilities each year.
Eisch is confident that the state’s recent investments in hatcheries will not only keep the lights on, but also positively influence the fishery.
All six hatcheries have infrastructure needs, and all are poised for some level of upgrades – but Wolf Lake in Mattawan will likely see the most changes. One of the most significant is the proposed construction of a new $6 million cold water facility for the culture of walleye and muskellunge.
The DNR plans to improve biosecurity in several places: for example, lining the interior of rearing units and adding UV filtration to remove pathogens from the water.
“Covering is important because the old liner starts to peel off, creating depressions in the units, which provide an ideal place for waste to collect and bacteria to grow,” Eisch said. “Lined rearing units provide cleaner places for fish to thrive.”
Some projects include the maintenance and replacement of wells, possibly the dredging of ponds – more flow means healthier and fitter fish.
The other works planned are more structural. Visitors to the Platte River Hatchery in Beulah might see areas where the rebar is exposed because the concrete is crumbling. These are needs that must be addressed and corrected now, otherwise the buildings will have to be replaced later. It’s a much more expensive proposition. The DNR will also target electrical distribution systems for repairs and upgrades, particularly in Wolf Lake and Platte. These systems (each at least 40 years old) have aging components including switches, buried power lines that are replaced when they fail, transformers, motor control centers – large important components that, at the end of account, total hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
A new approach to Au Sable
Another successful departmental initiative on an iconic Michigan river has the ability to better position other watersheds and fish populations. More than halfway through a two-year pilot project that applies structured decision-making to assess the resilience of the Au Sable River to existing and emerging threats, the results are promising.
Randy Claramunt is MNR’s Lake Huron Basin Coordinator. He and Tammy Newcomb, DNR Senior Executive Assistant Director, are department heads working with Michigan State University experts on structured decision-making and a stakeholder group representing the U.S. Forest Service, Michigan Trout Unlimited, the North Branch Area Foundation, and fishing groups, among others. MNR has additional representation from its fisheries, forestry, wildlife and executive divisions.
To understand where structured decision-making fits in, Claramunt said it all starts with a flow.
“If you’re restoring a fish population to a stream, especially a cold-water stream, the next logical leap is protecting the habitat of that stream,” he said. . “If the fish don’t have the cold water, the woody debris, and the water quality, you’re going to continually repopulate that stream. Making this stream self-sufficient is the goal, but to get there you need to attack the stream habitat and the watershed.
The challenge? None of this happens in a vacuum. A change in one arm of the river has downstream implications. In-stream habitat should be holistic and consider the entire watershed.
“A watershed like the Au Sable River is the most dynamic waterway in the state,” Claramunt said. “From the source of the North Branch to the main stem through the “holy waters” to Mio Dam, where it is open to Lake Huron – this river changes drastically, and boy, did she an amazing trout fishing.”
Unfortunately, it is also a river that is subject to several threats: thermal changes, climatic changes, floods, continuous sedimentation… threats that do not disappear.
“The question was if we are going to restore or improve the habitat to improve the resilience of the Au Sable River – which is, for the most part, a self-sustaining and amazing fishery – how do we continue that resilience? said Claramunt.
The increased challenges, coupled with an already overstretched fisheries management staff and passionate stakeholder base, presented an opportunity to try structured decision-making on the river.
“The strength behind SDM is that the stakeholders – the people who love, use and value the resource – not only help achieve the goals and objectives, but they work with the data and models alongside us,” Claramunt said. . “It’s not the DNR saying ‘You can’t look at our models.’ We’re the ones making sure to clearly explain the neural network models, the watershed models, and asking stakeholders for input on which models and data to use.”
The group uses data, population estimates, quantitative measures, values and qualitative input from stakeholders, and then assesses the risks of different decisions.
The idea is not to define a set of actions – Claramunt said it’s a misconception about SDM, that you enter all the data, put all the actions, and you get back a “Do A, B or C” final and you’re done.
Newcomb, who has used the SDM process to address cormorant, grass carp and salmon targets, agreed.
“It’s a great way to get people involved, to make sure all voices are heard and no one entity is influencing the outcome,” she said. “This project is about a shared vision of a watershed that is highly valued by many different types of people with different interests. By using contemporary scientific approaches to understanding landscape processes and how they affect riverine habitat and fish populations, we can develop an action plan with results that push everyone in the same direction.
And when it comes to the Au Sable River, no one wants to make high-risk decisions. Instead, the goal is to make decisions with a much higher probability of achieving the desired results.
“The Au Sable is an incredibly beautiful, unique and precious river. But structured decision making has never been applied to a river system like this,” Claramunt said. “In my opinion, Au Sable is the most dynamic river system for cold water trout. If we can successfully use SDM here, all of a sudden we can apply it to the Pine River, Cedar River, and a number of brook trout streams across UP”
Au Sable research, hatchery investments, energy upgrades, and the work done at all levels of MNR with the support of valued partners all serve healthy world-class fisheries and the people who love to fish in our waters season after season.
There is a passion there that you will not find anywhere else.
“Avid anglers live, eat and breathe this stuff,” said Eisch, head of fish production.
“Several years ago my wife was a nurse working with the Regional Aging Agency and did a lot of really great things to help people who are aging but want to stay in their own homes,” he said. “I started comparing that to what I was doing and started thinking maybe I wasn’t having much of an impact here. Then I realized some people were waiting all week just to go to the water. Fishing in Michigan is their happy place. It’s balm to their soul. They have to be there.
“It’s pretty cool to know that the work we do at DNR helps make the experience even better for them.”