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Aquatic Life and Habitats in Minnesota--Mandy Erickson

As told by Mandy Erickson
Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Story Narrative:

This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded for the Be Here: Main Street project, a collaboration with the MuseWeb Foundation to record stories from rural America. 

“I'm Mandy Erickson with the DNR Fisheries Office out of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Water has always been part of my life as I was taught to appreciate the lakes and the natural environment early on. I was lucky enough to be able to turn my love and respect for water into a career that focuses on the life within it. My career involves managing the balance of recreation and habitat needs for area lakes, and insuring that Minnesota's valuable fisheries resources can be enjoyed by future generations.

The dream of a peaceful lake and natural environment is often what leads people to want to live at the lake. Sometimes, the actions of people destroy some of the very things that brought them to the lake, perhaps managing their property in a way that does not benefit the lake.

Aquatic life depends on habitat, and our fisheries populations can be severely impacted by alterations in habitat. For example, consider the plants growing in and along the lake. The plants in the lake and along the shoreline are often the first thing that is destroyed when a homeowner manages his property. These plants stabilize sediment, absorb nutrients, provide oxygen, and provide cover for fish. Protecting water quality is incredibly important to local and state regulations that are in place to protect our shorelines and watershed from degradation are priceless.

During early settlement times, dams are built on our river systems for various reasons. Usually power or water level control. The way dams were built resulted in fish barriers in our streams and rivers. Fish were not able to get over the dams to reach different habitats that were needed during different times of the year. For example, deep pools to survive the winter or ideal spawning habitat.

Now many of those dams are no longer needed for power or their original uses. They may not be structurally sound, and they may be safety hazards. There is currently an ongoing effort to modify old dams to maintain the established water level, but to allow for fish passage. Dams are modified by using rock to build up the difference in elevation that was present with the dam, and the result is a natural-looking rapids area that is essentially a functioning water control structure. Fish are able to navigate through the rapids, and can once again reach the different habitat types present within the river system.

An example of fish species benefiting from this effort within the Red River Basin is lake sturgeon. Sturgeon were extirpated due to a loss of habitat and presumed overharvest. An effort to restore lake sturgeon to their native range, and restore fish passage within the basin, has been ongoing for nearly 20 years.

Lake sturgeon have been stocked in far upstream lakes of the Red River system, and in some major tributaries of the Red River. By restoring the fish and restoring their habitat connectivity, the hope is that some day we can have a naturally reproducing population of lake sturgeon once again within the Red River basin. Through habitat management and fishing regulations, quality fishing opportunities will be available for all anglers, now and in the future.

One fish barrier that was modified is where the Pelican River comes into Lake Sally in Detroit lakes. This is the site of Dunton Locks, once a functional lock and dam structure. It is now a Rock Rapids water control structure, with fish able to navigate up- and downstream. The DNR has operated a wildlife spawning station at this location for more than 100 years. Nearly 40 million walleye are hatched at the Lake Sally Hatchery each spring, and stocked within the Red River Watershed. Stocked in over 100 lakes in the surrounding areas, these fish establish and maintain walleye populations for all anglers to enjoy in lakes without the ability to naturally sustain their population.”

Asset ID #3901

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