Innovation, excitement to begin at Boardman River System in Traverse City – Part 1

River selected for 10-year pioneering experiment to create, evaluate state-of-the-art ways to block invasive species while allowing others to migrate.

The Boardman River demonstration site will also help draw tourists, scientists, and people interested in the Great Lakes fishery to Traverse City.

The Boardman River demonstration site will also help draw tourists, scientists, and people interested in the Great Lakes fishery to Traverse City.

The Boardman River, one of the top ten trout streams in Michigan and the largest tributary to Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, has just been selected for a major 10-year demonstration project. The project will construct and evaluate state-of-the-art ways to both block invasive sea lamprey while encouraging passage of desirable fish migrating to and from Lake Michigan.

A broad partnership led by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and the City of Traverse City, (including the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Fisheries & Oceans Canada, Michigan State University, the University of Guelph, the Ontario of Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry, and the State of New York) announced this agreement after a unanimous vote by the Traverse City Commission on September 6, 2016.

The Union Street dam in downtown Traverse City has been in place since just after the Civil War (1867),. This dam blocks passage of harmful sea lamprey to spawning grounds in approximately 150 miles of river and tributary streams. Yet, the dam also blocks passage for valued and prize species including lake sturgeon, walleye, and many other species. The old adage “healthy arteries make for a healthy heart” applies to the Great Lakes and its rivers – healthy connected flowing systems help make a strong and vibrant ecosystem. The conundrum exists in developing effective ways to keep invasive lamprey out while at the same time allowing desirable fish easy passage to a fast flowing cold river and tributary system.

The project will involve a steering committee of fishery experts and engineers who will identify potential technologies from around the globe and modify the existing dam and fish ladder to demonstrate blocking lamprey and passing desirable fish. One possibility that may be used involves using the fishes sense of smell - pheromones could be used to guide sea lamprey into traps and possible computer recognition of fish species could guide other species up the watershed.

The Boardman River was not the only possible demonstration site considered by the team of experts from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. It was ranked with 12 other possible sites. However, many factors contributed to this decision:  the site is owned by the City of Traverse City; it aligns with other existing restoration projects; the property can be modified and can work within the existing footprint; there was a strong desire by the tribe, state, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Traverse City for fish passage solutions, etc.

This demonstration site will also help draw tourists, scientists, and people interested in the Great Lakes fishery to Traverse City. Along with the nearby Boardman Weir in Traverse City, this site can potentially serve as a living laboratory for innovation for the Great Lakes and beyond.

Michigan Sea Grant Extension has an office within a short walk to the facility and will add value to the ongoing project throughout the next years. It is clearly an exciting time for the Boardman River system and in Traverse City.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

This is Part 1 of a two-part story. Read Part 2.

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