Fish Habitat Protection and Improvement
Because high-quality connected habitats are important for sustained fish production, fishery managers recognize that protecting and improving habitat can directly benefit fish communities and their associated fisheries. Fish habitat improvement techniques range from regional-scale actions that impact water quality and sediment erosion, to local actions that improve connectivity, or restore function of open-lake physical habitat (such as dam removal or reef construction). Selecting appropriate strategies for habitat protection and improvement from available options in each lake is important because funding opportunities are limited. Hence, the development of priorities is an important step for progress toward protecting and improving fish habitat. This is especially true because, most often, fishery management agencies do not directly regulate habitat. Therefore, they must partner with land-use and water quality agencies to accomplish their objectives for improved habitat that leads to maximizing sustained fish production. Each lake committee has developed a short list of lake-specific actions to protect or improve habitats that support sustainable fish production in each lake, called environmental priorities. These priorities serve to influence and align the work of funding organizations and habitat practitioners on specific projects that will address these environmental priorities and help lake committees move towards achievement of their Fish Community Objectives. The priorities will be updated every five years.
The commission also works with partners to focus funding opportunities on improving fish habitat to achieve fishery management goals. Partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with its Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Act program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with its Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act, and the U.S. Geological Survey through the St. Clair Detroit River System Initiative, as well as coastal, water quality, and other management agencies. For example, working through the Great Lakes Fishery and Ecosystem Restoration Program (GLFER), the Council of Lake Committees provides project proposal recommendations to the US Army Corps of Engineers for project funding to restore the Great Lakes fishery, ecosystem and beneficial uses of the resources. Since its inception, GLFER has funded approximately $70 million in projects to restore or rehabilitate habitat in the Great Lakes basin. This cooperative approach to identify key habitats for fish production, impediments and needed actions in key habitats, develop funding streams to improve habitat, and work with partners is the vision for achievement of sustainable Great Lakes fisheries and improved habitat quality.