Human activity has reduced the adequate cover and specific habitats that fish need for breeding, feeding and spawning so they can survive and thrive.

So a group of volunteers, led by PA Sea Grant Maritime Educator David Boughton, converged on Lampe Marina on Oct. 2 to build structures to replace lost natural spawning areas in Lake Erie. Directed by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission habitat specialists, 25 S.O.N.S. of Lake Erie volunteers and Central Career and Technical School teacher Brian Dilusio, 15 students assembled 20 porcupine fish habitat structures in just two hours. An Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority operator loaded the 400-pound structures onto the specially equipped PFBC boat, which moved the structures into Lake Erie and placed them in position.

The benefits to the students, to anyone who enjoys fishing in Lake Erie and to the organisms that call this area home are plentiful. Boughton, who works with area schools to involve students in real-life learning, said: “Working with PFBC and the S.O.N.S., the students learned the value this project brings to local fish populations and the community.” Jerry Skrypzak, S.O.N.S. president, was impressed with the group. “It was an absolute joy to work with the Central Tech students. Their attitude and work ethic was remarkable,” he said.

Volunteer-made lake fish habitat projects, which have been part of habitat management for more than 20 years, normally have a three- to nine-year life span, but a few have been in use for 20 years. The engineered structures, which will mimic the natural environment, could result in healthier, more diverse fish communities. That’s good for the fish and for anglers — and for the local economy, which relies on tourism and fishing.

Input from local angler groups, such as the S.O.N.S., has been critical in determining habitat preferences and appropriate locations for artificial habitats. The S.O.N.S. also provided financial support to purchase materials for the project. Improving fish habitat is not new to the S.O.N.S.; the group constructed and deployed more than 300 similar structures in Presque Isle Bay between 1995 and 2000. This latest round includes the first sites outside of Presque Isle Bay, specifically, the Hammermill cribs area and the South Channel fishing area.

A copy of the map showing habitat placements in and around the bay can be downloaded from the PFBC website at http://fishandboat.com/water/habitat/mgmt_plans/lake/presque_isle.pdf Ben Page, chief of the Fish and Boat Commission’s Habitat Management Division, and Skrypzak were excited about extending the range of habitat structures outside of Presque Isle Bay. This initiative is part of a three- to five-year project to lay out habitat structures in designated areas to provide safe havens for breeding and cover to young fish populations.

For more information about habitat improvement, visit http://fishandboat. com/habitat.htm.

To become involved in PA Sea Grant education programs, contact Boughton at dbb11@psu.edu or call 720-0746.

Issue Publication Date: 
Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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