SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. (WJMN) — From an experimental project to rear whitefish which started in 2018, the Sault Tribe Natural Resource Department biologists continue to explore ways to stock fish.

The tribe’s Fisheries Management Program started the program with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Whitefish brood stock were collected from Lake Huron in late 2019, 2020, and 2021. Spawning was done at the Nunns Creek Fisheries Enhancement Facility near Hessel. The eggs were hatched and raised at the facility.

“As a cold adapted species with spawning dependent on temperature, it is uncertain what will happen to whitefish populations with continually rising water temperatures in the Great Lakes,” said Sault Tribe Lead Biologist Brad Silet.

In 2021, the whitefish were reared in an earthen pond. Twenty-eight thousand whitefish which started in the pond at 1-inch-long quickly grew and showed they could find food naturally. Water temperatures, along with oxygen levels and other metrics were checked weekly. In October 2021, there were 7,747 whitefish that survived. They averaged a length of 6.5 inches and weighed more than an ounce each.

“Whitefish have been one of the species to feel the biggest impacts from invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels. These mussels have reduced the available food for whitefish to be able to eat at very early life stages,” Silet added. 

According to Silet, the fish were the largest whitefesh ever reared at a North American hatchery.

A million-dollar grant from the DTE foundation will provide funding over the next three years will support tribal governments such as the Sault Tribe, and state agencies to pilot experimental whitefish restoration efforts from rivers flowing into Lake Michigan and Huron.