AuSable River group garners support for possible arctic grayling project
Tue, 04/27/2021 - 12:19pm caleb
Board of Commissioners supports association’s effort to nominate AuSable for Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners – during a regular online meeting held on Thursday, April 22 – voted to support the Au Sable River Property Owners Association’s attempt to nominate the AuSable River for reintroduction of the arctic grayling fish through a state program.
David Smith, President of the Au Sable River Property Owners Association, spoke to the board on Thursday about the project to reintroduce arctic grayling into state rivers. It’s called the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative, and it’s being conducted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
“Arctic grayling thrived in Northern Michigan’s coldwater streams until the onset of the 20th century. Fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts visited destinations such as the AuSable River in Grayling for this iridescent fish. But by the 1930s, three factors contributed to the grayling’s demise: habitat destruction, unregulated harvest, and predation/competition from non-native fish species. The local extinction of this wild fish was a tragic loss for Michigan,” according to the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative website.
“Logging practices during that time period used streams to transport trees that were harvested. The streams carried logs to mills for processing. These practices greatly impacted the physical nature of those streams and basically destroyed stream habitats for fish, including grayling spawning areas,” said Todd Grischke, DNR Fisheries Division Assistant Chief. “Other types of trout were introduced into Michigan’s waters to create additional opportunities for anglers to pursue, but a consequence of this action was that grayling couldn’t compete with more aggressive fish like brown, rainbow, or brook trout.”
“The final nail in the coffin was over fishing that occurred readily with people harvesting the grayling in large quantities with no possession limits or other regulations to stop them. The last arctic grayling on record in Michigan were taken in 1936, but since that time natural resource managers have repeatedly looked for options to reintroduce it,” according to the DNR.
Smith said the latest project to reintroduce arctic grayling in Michigan has been underway for a few years but stalled recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smith said Michigan has tried to reintroduce grayling into its rivers before but the efforts were “unsuccessful.” Smith said the Department of Resources is trying a different method during the current Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative.
“In the late 1800s and early 1900s they tried stocking millions of arctic grayling fry into Michigan streams, but that didn’t work,” Grischke said. “And then in the 1980s we, the DNR, stocked hatchery-reared yearlings into lakes and streams, but again to no avail. We have learned from the mistakes experienced during these previous reintroduction events and plan to capitalize on new approaches, dedicated partnerships, and advanced technology.”
Smith said the latest attempt will involve release of eggs in special units instead of raising the fish in captivity and releasing them.
“Michigan’s history with the arctic grayling is long and storied. A striking fish with a sail-like dorsal fin and a slate blue color on its body, it was virtually the only native stream salmonid in the Lower Peninsula until the resident population died off nearly a century ago,” according to the DNR.
“The fact we have a town named after this fish indicates to me just how iconic it was and still is to many in this state. When you add in other factors – such as the fact they’re only native to Michigan and Montana out of all the lower 48 states – it just adds to their legendary status,” Grischke said.
Smith said that even tough the AuSable River seems like a logical choice for the project, the Au Sable River Property Owners Association still has to go through the nomination process, and he said they were advised to gather support from local groups – including governments – to strengthen their application to the Department of Natural Resources for the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative.
The Crawford County Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 to offer a letter of support to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on behalf of the Au Sable River Property Owners Association’s Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative nomination effort.
Smith said if the application is successful, it would probably be a few years before the arctic grayling rearing units are placed in parts of the AuSable River.