Artificial reefs boosting fish populations in Lake Huron

Project Summary: Thirty artificial fish reefs were installed in Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay, creating new fish spawning habitat in an area that was damaged by cement kiln dust from a nearby factory.

Project name: Thunder Bay Fish Spawning Reefs.

Location: Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay, in Alpena, Mi.

Description: Over the course of several decades, cement kiln dust (CKD) from a nearby cement factory in Alpena, Mi., leached into Lake Huron. The cement kiln dust destroyed an area of fish spawning and rearing habitat that was used by lake trout, lake whitefish and other reef spawning fishes. In 2002, the CKD pile was capped and a retaining wall was constructed to prevent further CKD leaching. Six rock reefs were constructed in Thunder Bay in 2010 with limestone cobble donated by the Lafarge Cement Plant. Another 24 reefs were constructed during the summer of 2011, creating a total of two acres of new fish spawning habitat. Although the project was focused on lake trout, other reef-associated fishes — including lake whitefish, walleye and smallmouth bass — are expected to benefit from the new reefs.

Crews deposit tons of limestone in Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay to create new fish spawning habitat on the lake bottom.

Approximate cost: $1.4 million.

Key partners (public and private): The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; the Michigan Department of Natural Resources; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; DLZ Michigan, Inc.; Ellen Marsden from the University of Vermont; the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve; the city of Alpena; and the Lafarge Cement Plant in Alpena.

Biologists are shown netting fish on the artificial reefs. Whitefish and other native species are spawning on the reefs..

Resource challenges addressed: Loss of fish spawning habitat for several native fish species.

Types of jobs created: Biologists, barge operators, technicians and general laborers.

Results and accomplishments: Lake trout and whitefish are already spawning on the artificial reefs, which will increase fish populations in Thunder Bay and Lake Huron.

Web site:

Originally Published: June 11, 2012