Inner Saginaw Bay Reef Restoration Project

Inner Saginaw Bay Reef Restoration Project potential locations – Bay County, MI

Historically, reef habitats in Saginaw Bay have been degraded by impacts from physical destruction, degradation from shoreline development, sedimentation, chemical contamination, and aquatic invasive species (e.g. dreissenid mussels, rusty crayfish). The Lake Huron Committee (LHC), along with federal partners, are in the process of rehabilitating self-sustaining stocks of both lake trout and cisco in Lake Huron, with Saginaw Bay being the site for initial rehabilitation stocking for cisco. The proposed project addresses a LHC priority to implement actions to address reef degradation to enhance production for multiple species of common concern across Lake Huron, including lake trout, lake whitefish, walleye, and cisco in the Saginaw Bay, Michigan region. This reef restoration project builds off of a pre-construction assessment project, funded by the USFWS Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act, which indicated that conditions in inner Saginaw Bay are suitable for reef restoration and will use lessons learned from a nearby recent reef restoration project (2-acre Coreyon Reef).

This proposed project will establish needed spawning habitat in inner Saginaw Bay, using natural materials and techniques similar to the Coreyon Reef restoration, in proximity to appropriate thermal spawning conditions and nursery environments. In addition to enhancing production from important fish species that support fisheries, this project has the potential to be conducted in concert with other shoreline infrastructure work to reduce coastal flooding and erosion, reduce the frequency of navigational dredging, increase recreational access, and increase coastal resilience to climate change. The project will ultimately provide recreational/commercial/tribal fishery benefits and move the LHC closer to the achievement of its fish community objectives, particularly through the rehabilitation of lake trout and cisco populations and contribute to diversifying walleye and lake whitefish production. Project partners include the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and Michigan Sea Grant.

The restoration site for ~2 acres (tentatively) of constructed reef will be in the vicinity of the Kawkawlin River outlet into Saginaw Bay and/or near Spoils Island.

Collage of maps showing the Nebagamon Creek Restoration Culvert Removal and River Improvements

Figure 1. Potential location for shoreline restoration to reduce coastal flooding and erosion, and restore connected coastal wetland habitat.

Initial feasibility completed through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) funding award to MDNR in 2019 includes shoreline sediment transport modeling utilizing existing hydrodynamic, wind/wave, and sediment deposition models, as well as extensive side-scan sonar and bathymetric mapping, with the intent to develop a range of conceptual alternatives for consideration for use in selection of final design.

Funds for this project will support stakeholder meetings to scope the full range of alternatives generated from initial feasibility studies, further develop feasibility information and engineering and design plans, and for construction of reefs at proposed locations detailed in the Feasibility Study.

The planned timeline includes stakeholder workshop scoping, additional feasibility work, and completion of design plans, expected in late 2023/24, with construction planned in 2024/25 after identification of the preferred alternative and completion of final design plans. Identification of preferred alternatives, design, and permitting for the project will begin after completion of feasibility and stakeholder consultations.

Data will be collected by MDNR and contractors in accordance with the procedures described in the Quality Assurance Project Plan. As-built surveys (e.g., reef placement, thickness, height, substrate characteristics) and fish community response surveys will be conducted once construction is complete. Much of the pre-construction environment is already being assessed as part of the initial feasibility and will provide pre-site characterizations for comparison to post-construction environmental conditions. MDNR currently has multiple assessment projects in the project location that will help inform project outcomes, and will add various fisheries surveys to inform both the design phase of the project as well as post-restoration response. The data will be stored internally at MDNR as well as on this GLFC website or upon request within 60 days of data collection and validation starting during the summer, 2023, through the summer 2026. Contact Jeff Tyson for more information or to make a data request. All future sub-awardees not identified in this plan will have as a condition of their contract acceptance of this data sharing plan. Any additional data sharing stipulations for future sub-awardees may be outlined at that time and described in their contract.

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