Use and Evaluation of Fish Habitat Structures in Lakes of the Eastern United States by the USDA Forest Service
Abstract:A survey of Eastern Region national forests indicated that 4290 fish habitat structures were installed in lakes during 1978–1991. These structures were intended to meet at least one of the following objectives: 1) improve production of fish and forage organisms by increasing habitat diversity in structurally-barren lakes; 2) concentrate fish for harvest by anglers; and 3) provide spawning habitat for a particular species of fish. Increasing production was the primary objective in many small (<200 ha) natural lakes in Michigan. Wisconsin and Minnesota where logging during the late 1800's and early 1900's depleted woody debris. Most of these lakes have clear water, sand substrate and few aquatic plants or prominent structural features. Brush piles, log cribs, stumps and whole trees were placed at depths of 1–6 m to restore woody debris. In large (>200 ha) natural lakes and manmade waters of all sizes, most structures were placed to concentrate fish for anglers. Structures installed for this purpose included grouped Christmas trees, wooden pallets, tire bundles, brush piles, log cribs, stumps and whole trees placed at depths of 1–10 m. Tires were not widely used, due to concerns about their unnatural appearance. Structures that improved spawning habitat for smallmouth bass and walleye were placed in Michigan. Wisconsin and Minnesota lakes at depths of 0–3 m. Spawning structures for walleye consisted of screened gravel and cobble placed where there is frequent wave action. Smallmouth bass spawning habitat was provided by placing gravel-filled wooden boxes where substrate was unsuitable for spawning or by installing half-logs to provide nest cover over suitable spawning substrate. Spawning structures increased lake-wide populations of walleye and smallmouth bass. Most woody structures concentrated fish and improved angling but evaluations were not adequate to determine effects on production of fish and forage organisms. Woody structures in 3–6 m of water were used more by centrarchids and yellow perch of all sizes than those at other depths but juvenile centrarchids and spawning adult centrarchids also used trees in water as shallow as 1 m. Log cribs with brush fill held more fish than those with little or no fill and several log cribs placed close together held more fish than individual cribs. Fish use of log cribs declined as water temperature dropped below 10°C. Future evaluations should determine effects of structures on lake-wide production of sport fish and their forage and determine how much structure of a particular type is needed to meet a desired objective. Improved design and documentation of evaluations, and wider sharing of results among biologists, will encourage more effective use of habitat structures.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: September 1, 1994
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