Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni
In 2014, I attended a meeting with various business, state, and local individuals to discuss the possibility of introducing saugeye to Lake St. Marys. With available research and the introduction of genetically modified saugeye fingerlings, it was confirmed that saugeye could become a positive addition to an already quality fishery. However, there was a problem. Although the introduction of saugeye would be a boon to sportsmen and the local recreational economy, the fish would also become a potential invasive species to Lake Erie. Since dealing with invasive species is a much larger issue, it had to be addressed before saugeye stocking at the local level would ever be considered.
In terms of invasive species, the approach is one demanding zero tolerance. Putting saugeye in Lake St. Marys created the possibility, although quite remote, that the fish could escape and somehow wind up in Lake Erie endangering the purity of the walleye strain. In 2014, there were some saugeye accidently released through peripheral fish hatchery drainage. These fish could have potentially reached the St. Marys River, get to Ft. Wayne, hit the Maumee River, survive various natural and manmade obstacles, and hit the big lake. If stocked, saugeye could potentially escape through the East Bank bulkhead into the Miami-Erie Canal feeder which at times dumps into the St. Marys River or its tributaries. To date, two of the three issues have been corrected. Facilities are already in place and functioning at the St. Marys Fish hatchery guaranteeing that any water from the lake is returned to the lake. Drainage issues have been addressed and corrected. It is impossible for any fish raised at the hatchery to escape. Near Ft. Wayne, Eagle Marsh, susceptible to flooding, received renovations that prevent any saugeye escaping through Beaver Creek from somehow getting into the Lake Erie watershed.
The only obstacle currently preventing saugeye stocking in Lake St. Marys is the East Bank bulkhead. Once repaired, renovated, or replaced with a system designed to enhance dam integrity and completely prevent the release of an invasive species (saugeye) or future potential invasive species, saugeye can safely be stocked. The status and time-line of bulkhead repair is not yet definite, but action is currently being taken to address the issue. According to the ODNR’s Division of Engineering, $300,000 is currently budgeted to fund the steps needed to start the process leading to construction. An RFQ (Request for qualifications) will be released this May. This step is designed to make sure contractors are capable of designing and completing the potential project. Once this phase is completed, qualified contractors will be selected and a request for proposals will be released. The final phase will lead to the eventual design and specifications of the project.
Funding for the East Bank bulkhead project is primarily based on two facets. The ODNR Dam Risk Reduction program is designed to deal with potential problems related to numerous Ohio dams monitored by the state. This is especially true of Ohio’s 53 Class I earthen dams in various states of neglect and disrepair. GLSM is classified as Class I and as such is considered to be high hazard. Since one of the weakest spots on the east side of the lake is the bulkhead, it would qualify to receive appropriated capital funds for dam risk reduction. The same applies to corresponding issues at the west bank. According to John Navarro, aquatic invasive species expert with the Division of Wildlife, monies could also be available through the EPA which is the lead federal agency for implementing and administering the GLRI (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative). The EPA administers grant programs to fund nonfederal projects and activities related to restoration including control of invasive species. To qualify for any GLRI money, any new construction of the East Bank bulkhead would have to include design features to control the potential release of invasive species from the lake.
Is there a timeline for dealing with these problems at Lake St. Marys? According to the ODNR, “The West Bank dam embankment improvements are expected to restore the embankments to their original configuration. There will be some demolition, drainage improvements and utility work as well. For the East Bank spillway, we will be investigating the current condition of the spillway to determine what modifications are possible to allow the spillway to function as required. ODNR anticipates that design work for these projects will start this fall. The preliminary construction schedule is for work to begin on the West Bank in late summer 2020 and be complete by summer 2021. ODNR anticipates the investigation for the East Bank spillway to be complete sometime in winter 2019/2020.”
There you have it. Stocking saugeye at GLSM is not the major issue no matter how much sportsmen would like it to be. There’s a bigger picture, dealing with dam safety and controlling invasive species. Like it or not, these are the projects that need to be supported because they generate the big bucks needed for funding. Once the appropriate projects are completed, we can have saugeye running all over Lake St. Marys, and that’s exciting to think about.