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Fish Find A Home

First artificial reef in Lake Michigan may become a smallmouth bass magnet


The first artificial reef in the Illiois waters of Lake Michigan was built in less than a week during the balmy days leading up to Thanksgiving. Planning for the project, however, took more than three years and involved representatives from private industry and local, state and federal governmental agencies.

Intended to enhance fish habitat and serve as a model for possible construction of other fish-attracting reefs near the Chicago lakeshore, the new reef is located in 25 feet of water 1.4 miles off 57th Street. It is 800 feet long, 20- to 35-feet wide and 2- to 10-feet tall. Anglers with global positioning units will find its center at 41 degrees, 47 minutes and 34 seconds north longitude, and 87 degrees, 33 minutes and 8 seconds west latitude.

Bill Cullerton, founder of the Cullerton Company who recently retired from hosting the "Great Outdoors" program on WGN Radio in Chicago, is widely credited with originating the reef idea. "My first conversations were when Ohio planted successful reefs 12 to 15 years ago," Cullerton said. "I talked to every politician I could, every fishing club. I felt like a lobbyist."

Cullerton said the project gained momentum when DNR Director Brent Manning formed the Lake Michigan Artificial Reef Committee in fall 1996. "I had several rejections from people who had the money to do it, but Brent was receptive and took the right approach by rounding up the committee," he said.

The committee's size has been increasing since its formation, and at last count included three members from private firms, one each from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Coastguard, the Illinois EPA, the City of Chicago Office of Special Events, the City of Chicago Department of Environment and the Illinois Conservation Foundation (ICF), four from the Chicago Park District, three from the DNR Division of Fisheries, two from the DNR Office of Resource Conservation, six from the DNR Office of Water Resources, and one each from the Illinois Natural History, Geological and Water surveys.

"Dumping a pile of rocks into Lake

Barges loaded with granite were maneuvered into the proper locations by use of global positioning satellites.

8   OutdoorIllinois

It took less than a week to dump the granite rubble that comprises the new Lake Michigan reef.

Michigan is much more complicated than I ever dreamed," Cullerton said. "It was so interesting to have all these people who had never worked togetheróthe city, the state, the fedsócome together. It's been a wonderful learning experience for all involved."

Each of the groups represented on the committee played a role. For example, the Corps of Engineers controlled construction activities on the lake, the EPA monitored materials placed in the lake, and the city's Department of Environment pinpointed water lines from the 68th Street intake crib.

Mike Chrzastowski, coastal geologist for the Illinois State Geological Survey, surveyed a 318-acre area of the lake between 55th and 60th streets in May 1998. "We took core samples of the bottom and sent them to the lab for compression and compaction tests," he said. "The foundation tests came out fine; it will support the weight of the reef."

The reef consists of 5,323 tons of granite rubble donated to the ICF by Bechstein Construction Co. of Tinley Park and J.T. Einoder, Inc., of Orland Park, and removed from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The ICF also chipped in more than $20,000 raised from private donations toward the $129,000 paid to Luhr Brothers, Inc., of Columbia, Ill., to transport the granite by barge to the reef site.

"The cost of this reef is way more than $129,000," Cullerton said. "When you factor in all the time everyone spent it's a million dollar reef. I call this 'Reef 1.' We need a string of them to make perch and smallmouth bass fishing accessible to everybody."

"If future reefs are to be built, continued financial gifts for such projects are needed by the Illinois Conservation Foundation," said ICF Executive Director John Schmitt. "I would very much like to talk to those out there who want to contribute to future ICF projects."

The prospects for more reefs largely depend on the results of a three-year study being conducted by John Dettmers, station director of the Illinois Natural History Survey's Lake Michigan Biological Station.

Using a $225,000 grant under the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, Dettmers has been monitoring the reef site and a nearby "control" site since April 1999.

"We want to understand how the reef will affect the recruitment of near-shore fishes," Dettmers said. "We're studying zooplankton, benthic invertebrates such as crayfish and midge larva, and amphipods. We're also sampling for larval and juvenile fish using a variety of nets. We'll be doing some fish spawning indexes as well.

"One of the main reasons for the reef is to provide suitable habitat for smallmouth bass," Dettmers continued. "The committee wanted it in a geologically stable location capable of supporting the weight of the reef, yet close enough to shore so the fish will be able to colonize it in a relatively short period of time. I don't know when they'll colonize it, but it'll be interesting to see whether they colonize in the spring or wait until the water warms up more."

Tom Trudeau, DNR Lake Michigan Fisheries Program manager, said two exotic invadersóround gobies and zebra musselsówill probably be the first reef colonists, but other species may follow.

"Reproduction of fish is one of the main things we're looking at," Trudeau said. "Will the reef attract fish or provide additional spawning areas? We wanted a variation in the height and width of the reef to provide holes for fish to hide in. We need to know what attracts the fish, the shelter or food availability. We want to learn how to use this as an effective tool."

If the reef is successful, don't be surprised to see more built in the future. Cullerton is already lining up locations and funding sources. "Strategically placed reefs can help protect the shoreline," he said. "As barrier reefs, they qualify for federal funding. A side benefit is that the fish will be there. If you give the fish more habitat, the population expands."

Gifts made to the Illinois Conservation Foundation are tax exempt. More information about how you can make a contribution to the Foundation is available by writing: Illinois Conservation Foundation, 524 S. Second St.. Springfield, Ill. You can telephone the foundation at (217) 785-2003 in Spring Held or (312)814-7237 in Chicago.

January 2000   9

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