Native fish spawning habitat: It’s more than just rocks in the river - Part 5

The ecology and economy of an adaptive management native fish spawning habitat in the St. Clair and Detroit rivers.

Some studies show investing in habitat restoration leads to future job creation in rebuilt fisheries and coastal tourism. Photo: St. Clair – Detroit River Sturgeon For Tomorrow

Some studies show investing in habitat restoration leads to future job creation in rebuilt fisheries and coastal tourism. Photo: St. Clair – Detroit River Sturgeon For Tomorrow

Part 1 of this series documented the beginning of a native fish habitat restoration project in the Detroit River. Part 2 explored how a project team that included Michigan Sea Grant, Michigan State University Extension, United States Geological Survey and others developed a strategy for defining restoration goals. Part 3 discussed post-construction assessments to see if native fish were in fact reproducing on the constructed reefs. Part 4 described how the success of the first spawning reef experiment led to the subsequent projects throughout the St. Clair and Detroit rivers. This final article in the series will illustrate the ecological and economic benefits of this and other coastal habitat restoration projects.

Often juxtaposed, economy and ecology are not-so-strange bedfellows. What sets this and other restoration projects apart are the far-reaching and direct benefits derived from them. While the fish using the newly constructed reefs to spawn are seeing a discernible benefit — as is the surrounding ecosystem — the advantage to humans may be more difficult to spot.

A recent study by P.E.T. Edwards, A.E. Sutton-Grier, and G.E. Coyle published in the journal “Marine Policy” looked at the connection between restoring coastal habitat and the economy. The study determined that, on average, habitat restoration projects directly generate 17 jobs per million dollars spent.

To put it in context, that figure is similar to other conservation industry job impacts, but is much higher than the per-million-dollar return of other industries such as coal, oil and gas (non-pipeline building), where the same investment results in an average of 1-2 direct jobs. Of course, that is over the short term.

Long term, other studies cited in the article suggest that investing in habitat restoration also leads to future job creation in rebuilt fisheries and coastal tourism, as well as other long-term benefits to coastal economies, including higher property values and better water quality.

Jim Felgenauer, one of the founders of the St. Clair-Detroit River Sturgeon for Tomorrow group, said he has seen encouraging results in the community as a result of the habitat restoration projects.

“There certainly has been some direct economic impact because local contractors are being used on the projects,” he said. “The willingness for others to make such a large investment in our river adds to our understanding of how important and special it is.”

Felgenauer went on to say that the restoration has also created many opportunities for the community to become involved in the process and to forge a stronger connection with the river and its fishy inhabitants. For example, the Blue Water Sturgeon Festival in Port Huron was held for a third year in May 2015. And local communities are seeing increased fishing trips to participate in catch and release sturgeon fishing.

Jennifer Read, project manager and University of Michigan Water Center Director, agreed. “Festivals, higher quality of life, tourism, a desirable, healthy environment — these things all add up to creating attractive places to live, and that in turn creates a stronger economy. You can live in this neighborhood,” she said, “Or you can live in this other community where there are cool things happening, a community that’s known for its environmental amenities. Which would you choose?”

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, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

Read the full series

“Native fish spawning habitat: It’s more than just rocks in the river”

Part 1: The beginning

Part 2: Strategy

Part 3: Assessment

Part 4: New projects

Part 5: Project benefits

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