A striking fish with a sail-like dorsal fin and slate-blue coloration, the Arctic grayling was virtually the only native stream salmonid (a fish of the salmon family) in the northern Lower Peninsula until the population died off nearly a century ago. Three factors contributed to the grayling’s demise in Michigan: habitat destruction, unregulated harvest and predation/competition from nonnative fish species.
Since 2016, the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative – comprised of the Michigan DNR, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and more than 40 other partners – has worked to bring this locally extinct species back to Michigan.
Late this past spring, the DNR received the 2021 year-class of brood eggs from Alaska. A year-class is a group of fish raised from the same year’s egg-take – in other words, fish that are the same age. The eggs from this year-class will help establish a brood population in Michigan.
How do fish eggs get from Alaska to Michigan? Very carefully. They were transported to Michigan by plane as the carry-on luggage of a Michigan State University researcher. Upon arrival, they were kept at the MSU lab in East Lansing before the final leg of their journey to Oden State Fish Hatchery in Emmet County. The fish are growing well after hatching, and mortalities in this group have been remarkably low.
The 2021 year-class is not the first to make the trip from Alaska to Michigan. In 2019, the DNR received another class of Arctic grayling, and they continue to thrive at Marquette State Fish Hatchery. The fish are growing well with very few mortalities. The next class is planned for May 2022, when the DNR and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will collect eggs from Alaska’s Chena River.
The initiative to return Arctic grayling to Michigan waters could not have been possible without help from local and state partners. The DNR has received incredible support from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game; even though the agency temporarily paused its Arctic graying rearing program, staff there organized and executed the 2021 egg take, collecting eggs from wild stock in the Chena River specifically for Michigan’s reintroduction efforts.
When will you see Arctic grayling in Michigan waters? The first fish from Michigan’s Arctic grayling broodstock are expected to be available for reintroduction in 2024 or 2025. Visit MiGrayling.org for updates on this important work to restore a Michigan native.