Historic reports imply that the lower Detroit River was once a prolific spawning area for lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) prior to the construction of the Livingstone shipping channel in 1911. Large numbers of lake whitefish migrated into the river in fall where they spawned on expansive limestone bedrock and gravel bars. Lake whitefish were harvested in the river during this time by commercial fisheries and for fish culture operations. The last reported landing of lake whitefish from the Detroit River was in 1925. Loss of suitable spawning habitat during the construction of the shipping channels as well as the effects of over-fishing, sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) predation, loss of riparian wetlands, and other perturbations to riverine habitat are associated with the disappearance of lake whitefish spawning runs. Because lake whitefish are recovering in Lake Erie with substantial spawning occurring in the western basin, we suspected they may once again be using the Detroit River to spawn. We sampled in the Detroit River for lake whitefish adults and eggs in late fall of 2005 and for lake whitefish eggs and fish larvae in 2006 to assess the extent of reproduction in the river. A spawning-ready male lake whitefish was collected in gillnets and several dozen viable lake whitefish eggs were collected with a pump in the Detroit River in November and December 2005. No lake whitefish eggs were found at lower river sites in March of 2006, but viable lake whitefish eggs were found at Belle Isle in the upper river in early April. Several hundred lake whitefish larvae were collected in the river during March through early May 2006. Peak larval densities (30 fish/1,000 m3 of water) were observed during the week of 3 April. Because high numbers of lake whitefish larvae were collected from mid- and downstream sample sites in the river, we believe that production of lake whitefish in the Detroit River may be a substantial contribution to the lake whitefish population in Lake Erie.
Additional publication details
Evidence of lake whitefish spawning in the Detroit River: Implications for habitat and population recovery