Partial weir to be installed on Manistee River for sturgeon study

MANISTEE COUNTY — Known as the grandfather fish, lake sturgeon have a rich history in the Manistee Lake and River system.

And for more than a decade, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Natural Resources Department has operated a streamside rearing facility at Rainbow Bend on the Manistee River as part of its sturgeon management plan.

To help assess these efforts, the department will be installing a temporary partial weir on the Manistee River next week.

“Ultimately, we want to determine the returning lake sturgeon to the Manistee River that had been reared in our system,” said Corey Jerome, fisheries biologist with the department. “This is our tool to do that.”

The installation site is located downstream of the United States Forest Service’s Rainbow Bend access site on tribal property. The weir installation is planned to start Monday, with operational activities continuing up to Sept. 7.

There will be buoys upstream and downstream marking the weir site to alert river users to the installed weir and direct boat traffic away from and around the weir. Signage will be posted at access sites to inform and alert users of the weir.

Jerome explained that this temporary installation is essentially a trial for future plans.

“Currently, we want to test a partial weir,” he said. “This install is actually happening in low water and out of season for sturgeon, but we’re doing it to see what the installation process is like and what operational procedures are involved with the weir.

“We’re also trying to see if a partial weir can get us the data we need.”

In late 2016, the department originally proposed an anchoring system for a temporary resistance board weir downstream from Manistee County’s Rainbow Bend and requested a special use permit from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

While the north side of that particular portion of the Manistee River is owned by the LRBOI, installing the weir would involve anchoring it to Manistee National Forest lands on the south side.

However, after a flood of public comments and concerns about the project, the LRBOI decided to re-evaluate that proposal.

“With the comments we received through that process, we took a step back to really look at its feasibility,” Jerome said. “The installation of this partial weir will hopefully address some of the concerns that were raised as we try to move forward with our assessment.”

Jerome said representatives from Cramer Fish Sciences will be on site during the upcoming installation.

“They’ve installed and helped operate these weirs multiple times in the past, so they’ll be there to train us on the logistics of it,” he said. “If everything goes well over the next few weeks, our goal is to do the same installation next spring.”

In April, the department recaptured a lake sturgeon from Manistee Lake that was raised and released in 2008 from its rearing facility. The fish represented the first documented return to the Manistee River system from the program and was thought to be on its way up the Manistee River to spawn.

“The whole program started back in the early 2000s, when we were looking at the population of lake sturgeon spawning in Manistee River,” said Archie Martell, senior fisheries biologist of the natural resources department. “After some research, we found out that population was on the low side of things, so the tribe started our sturgeon rearing facility and we’ve been operating that for about 15 years or so.

“It’s been going on for a while now, and we’re just starting to see the results of that work,” he said. “We were quite excited to see that fish. … Hopefully it’s a sign of many more to come. It’s a long term commitment to help restore this population, so this is our first glimpse of those efforts.”

The sturgeon was released on Sept. 20, 2008, measuring 7.3 inches and .05 pounds. When recaptured, it was 10 years old, 45.27 inches and 28 pounds.

Jerome was able to confirm its identity by using the unique identification number scanned from the Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag in the fish, which was implanted into the sturgeon before its release in 2008.

“It’s a culturally significant species for the tribe,” Martell explained. “We’ve been putting a lot of time, effort and money into this program for many years now, so to be able to finally start evaluating how effective this method has been is huge.”

For more information on the program or the partial weir, contact the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Natural Resources Office at (231) 723-1594.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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