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Grayling to be raised in Harvey: Another step in reintroducing native fish to state

Another crucial step has been taken in the effort to reintroduce Arctic grayling to Michigan waters. The first year-class of future broodfish were recently transferred from an isolated rearing facility at Oden State Fish Hatchery near downstate Petoskey to the Marquette State Fish Hatchery in Harvey. Approximately 4,000 fish, averaging 6.5 inches long, made the trip to the Marquette hatchery. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

HARVEY — Another crucial step toward reintroducing Arctic grayling to Michigan waters has been made — and it’s local.

The first year-class — a group of young fish produced during one year — of future broodstock was transferred recently from an isolated rearing facility at Oden State Fish Hatchery near downstate Petoskey to the Marquette State Fish Hatchery in Harvey.

Approximately 4,000 fish, averaging 6.5 inches long, made the trip to Marquette.

The occasion marked a significant milestone in the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative, a collaborative effort to bring this native fish back to the Great Lakes State.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, announced a proposed initative in June 2016 to bring back the grayling.

Before the northern Lower Peninsula was heavily lumbered in the mid- to late 1800s, Arctic grayling was the dominant species of salmonids — belonging to the salmon family — found in cold-water streams.

Overfishing, habitat loss from the timber practices of the day and competing with and being preyed on by introduced species like brown trout all played a role in the grayling being extirpated from Michigan by 1936.

“This is a really exciting day for the initiative,” DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter said in a news release. “A lot of planning and work has gone into this program, and it’s great to see it moving forward.”

Roughly 10,000 eggs collected from Chena River, a tributary to Alaska’s Yukon River, were brought to Michigan in spring 2019. Because the eggs originated from outside of the Great Lakes basin, they were quarantined until three separate health exams could be completed to ensure a new pathogen won’t inadvertently be introduced to Michigan’s waters.

Before the Oden hatchery could house the grayling, it had to be outfitted with an ultraviolet filter on the outflow from the isolation facility to provide protection against the spread of unknown pathogens.

Growing Arctic grayling need water temperatures that change with the season, and the water source for the Marquette hatchery mimics their natural environment.

Now that the fish have arrived at Marquette State Fish Hatchery, staff will care for this group of grayling until the fish are ready to begin producing eggs, usually when they are 4-6 years old.

While COVID-19 forced a hiatus in development of the Arctic grayling broodstock, the DNR plans to send staff back to Alaska in 2021 and 2022 for two more year-classes of eggs.

Troy Athens High School in downstate Troy earlier this year created a video on the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative.

“We squandered an amazing legacy of natural resources in our state,” said Gary Whelan, DNR program manager, in the video.

The grayling’s physical features were noted, such as its huge dorsal fin and its iridescent, almost purplish color.

DNR Assistant Fisheries Division Chief Todd Grischke said, “We went into this believing, thinking that it’s important to re-establish Arctic grayling in Michigan, and the interest just swelled from there.”

Trials have shown grayling do not co-exist with non-native brown trout as well as they do with native brook trout, so potential competition has to be considered in future grayling survival.

“They’re a touchstone to our conservation past, our ecological past,” said Nate Winkler, a biologist with the Conservation Resource Alliance, “and if we have to make room for grayling and not have so many brown trout, rainbow trout, I feel like that’s a great trade-off and a necessary trade-off.”

Ed Eisch, DNR statewide fish production program manager, said the hatchery in Harvey was chosen because of the fluctuating water temperatures and daylight hours, which are conducive to grayling spawning.

The grayling raised at the hatchery, he noted, will be used as brood stock, with eggs eventually taken to a remote-site incubator whose location has not yet been chosen.

For more on this initiative, visit MiGrayling.org or contact Eisch at 231-499-4118.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net

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