Ozaukee Fish Passage Program

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Overview of the Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Department Fish Passage Program


Approximately $17.5 million of federal, state, local, and non-profit organization funding has been awarded to develop, refine, and implement a comprehensive “Ozaukee Fish Passage Program” (Program) within the Ozaukee County Planning and Parks Department (Department). The Program reconnects, restores, and enhances existing, high quality habitat in Milwaukee River and direct tributaries to Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee Estuary, and the mainstem Milwaukee River. The Program also addresses human activities that can directly or indirectly create impediments that fragment aquatic connectivity and inhibit access to these high quality habitats as well as impair water quality.

The Program seeks to re-establish migratory fish passage between 11,149 wetland acres and 215 stream miles of the Milwaukee River Watershed, the Milwaukee Estuary, direct tributaries to Lake Michigan, and Lake Michigan. To date, the Program and its partners have removed or remediated over 300 impediments to fish and aquatic life passage, restoring access to over 150 miles of in-stream habitat and thousands of acres of wetland habitat.

Many desirable lake resident fish species require access to rivers and streams for lifecycle critical functions (e.g., congregation, spawning, juvenile development). Fish passage impediments in Ozaukee County have impeded and/or precluded upstream migration of some, and in some cases, all, lake resident adfluvial fish. Many Great Lakes species spawn in wetlands, ditches, seasonally flooded areas, and very small streams, habitat types that can commonly be overlooked and underappreciated. Others require sandy or gravelly stream bottoms, large cobbles, or creviced bedrock. Some species require one habitat type for spawning, and a very different type of habitat for young-of-the-year development. A large variety of accessible habitat is critically important to maintaining or restoring the rich species diversity originally present in the Great Lakes watershed. Moreover, many native Great Lakes fish exhibit great fidelity to their streams, including obscure, seasonal, and under-appreciated habitat areas. Although excellent habitat abounds in the region, it is often biologically dysfunctional, isolated, or physically inaccessible to lake-resident fish on account of migration impediments such as various sized and often functionally obsolete dams, biologically impassable stream crossings, debris, pervious fill, and deteriorated channel morphology. Restoring access (both linear (within stream) and lateral (to adjacent wetlands and floodplains)) to high-quality natural habitat generally costs less and is usually more productive than restoring severely degraded habitat or constructing artificial habitat. Reconnecting isolated portions of watersheds improves biological and genetic diversity of aquatic communities including river resident and adfluvial fish species, and other organism that depend upon these fish for part of their life cycles (e.g, mussels). Combined, such actions increase the sustainability of imperiled species, a large assemblage of popular game and forage fish, and other aquatic organisms.

Watch Our Fish Passage Video! 

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Milwaukee River Smallmouth Bass

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