2012 Floods Haven't Had 'Adverse Impact' on River Fish, Says DNR

By KBJR News 1

May 20, 2013 Updated May 20, 2013 at 5:00 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - This is a critical time of year according to Fisheries Biologist Josh Blankenheim. It's the time of year migratory spring spawning species, like Camloop and Steelhead, move into position upstream.

"Generally April—in this case May—the fish will migrate up the rivers for spawning purposes," said Blankenheim, standing by the bank of the French River. Literal hundreds of river fish could be seen darting upstream into the DNR survey trap.

Those fish will find things quite changed this year. Millions of gallons of last year's rushing floodwater physically transformed Northland rivers in a big way.

"Some people were concerned that we had a great loss in habitat," said Blankenheim.

But after testing a number of rivers from here to Grand Marais and finding a healthy population of juvenile fish in each, researchers have been reminded of the resilience of these species.

"There were young fish in all of them, so there was not a catastrophic loss of steelhead," said Blankenheim.

In fact the changes brought on by the flood, says Blankenheim, haven't been bad for fish, or anglers: "Some of their favorite spots might not be as productive as before—their favorite pool might not be a pool, it may have filled in. However, there may have been a stretch of river that scoured out, and a pool developed there."

The French River alone has seen more than 1,000 Camloops in its survey trap this season—an above average total. Similar data on other rivers can help shape which water bodies need repairs, and which can be left to mother nature.

"This was a natural event; there was natural sediment movement. So, in some cases, we will leave a lot of it alone. Other cases, we will do major restoration," said Program Manager for the City of Duluth Chris Kleist, who is helping organize river and stream recovery efforts through feedback from various groups.

The worst time for a major flooding event, says Blankenheim, would be immediately after fish have laid their eggs, or shortly after their hatching. Strong currents would likely overwhelm the new, and vulnerable, populations.

- Posted to the Web by Billy Wagness