Graham Sustainability Institute

Science in Action: Lessons Learned from Fish Spawning Habitat Restoration in the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers

February 2016

This report summarizes lessons learned through a series of restoration projects completed between 2004 and 2015 in the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. This information was compiled to help others — including local leaders, project coordinators, restoration funders and professional engineers and biologists — learn from and apply the knowledge we’ve acquired through our adaptive management approach. 

In the Great Lakes region, the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers historically served as some of the most important spawning grounds for fish such as lake sturgeon, walleye, lake whitefish and cisco. However, many of the natural spawning grounds — limestone reefs and rocky areas — were destroyed when shipping channels were constructed. Similar spawning areas in tributary rivers were made inaccessible by dams or were damaged by shoreline development and sedimentation.

In 2001, a small team came together to restore habitat for native fish in the System. Initially the premise was simple: re-create some of the rocky substrate that had been lost or degraded. However, these rivers are complex, dynamic and highly altered, presenting a multitude of uncertainties that continually challenge both the team’s understanding of the river system and their efforts to restore fish spawning habitat. By applying an adaptive management process to habitat restoration efforts, the team has advanced scientific understanding and improved conditions for native fish species in these rivers. Along the way, the team learned new strategies for siting, designing and constructing spawning habitat and for facilitating a productive adaptive management process.

Executive Summary
Full Report

For more information, see project website.