Grant supports project to reintroduce Arctic grayling to Michigan

MARQUETTE, Mich. (WJMN) — Northern Michigan University, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, has been granted $70,000 for efforts to bring back Arctic grayling to Michigan waters.

The Arctic grayling, a member of the salmon family, was once abundant in northern Lower Peninsula streams, but it was lost in the 1930s.

The grant money is from Consumers Energy Foundation and the Henry E. and Consuelo S. Wenger Foundation. It will fund an evaluation of several types of chambers for rearing Arctic grayling eggs in Michigan streams.

The remote site incubator designs were successfully used in Montana streams and worked well there.

“One of the potential game changers this time is the state of Montana started using the remote site incubator method,” Troy Zorn, a research biologist with the Michigan DNR Fisheries Division, said. “What that involves is incubating the grayling’s eggs on the stream water. It’s possible that it allows the young grayling to imprint and establish residency in the stream.”

Successful operation is less certain in Michigan streams. The project will determine which will be most efficient and reliable for Michigan’s stream environments.

Zorn describes the incubator method that has been tested in Montana.

Previously, the fish would be stocked in the streams and then not survive. Researchers have since learned more about the environmental conditions grayling prefer and how they interact with introduced species.

“Grayling spawn in the spring,” said Zorn. “We’re looking for options that are quick to set up, reliable and might produce results just as effectively.”

The DNR has built a prototype incubator basket at the hatchery in Harvey. It is a rectangular, metal and mesh basket with dividers to keep the eggs from shifting around. PVC pontoons will allow the basket to float and keep water flowing through.

Another approach will be a commercial product where it will hold one egg per chamber.

Researchers have developed methods for rating Michigan stream reaches based on how suitable their habitats are for grayling.

“We don’t have an unlimited supply of eggs or anything, so we are looking at introducing them where the habitat is optimal. They need cold water, so it has to be cold all the way through summer,” Zorn said. “We’re looking for rivers that have suitable habitat for the fry, the juvenile grayling and the adults and for spawning.”

The DNR is also trying to find the right habitat and fish community to minimize competition and predation and increase their chances of success.

“We’re not going to be working with grayling because we don’t have grayling that are ready to spawn yet. So we’re working probably with walleye eggs and fry. Walleye spawn in the spring just like grayling do. The size of eggs is almost identical to a grayling egg,” Zorn explained.

Scientists discuss efforts to restore extinct fish species in MI

“This is the second contribution we have received from the Consumers Energy Foundation since we started our initiative to bring Arctic grayling back to Michigan,” DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter said. “With their partnership we are able to get closer to meeting our goals and seeing success.”

“Consumers Energy has been serving Michigan communities for 135 years, and we’re committed to supporting organizations that strengthen environmental stewardship and work to preserve and protect our state’s amazing natural resources,” Consumers Energy Foundation Secretary and Treasurer Carolyn Bloodworth said. “We’re proud to partner with other Michigan organizations to bring native Arctic grayling back to their home waters.”

“Northern Michigan University is looking forward to collaborating on this project with the Michigan DNR,” NMU assistant professor Brandon Gerig said. “It’s exciting that the data generated from this project will directly inform Arctic grayling restoration efforts in Michigan.” 

The Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative was created by the DNR and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians with the goal of establishing self-sustaining populations in the areas the fish once populated. More than 40 partners are on board. For more information, visit

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