How $2M may help save endangered and threatened fish on Peche Island

An endangered fish makes their nest off the eroding shoreline of Peche Island on the Detriot River.

Project called a 'great leadership moment' from Windsor's council and mayor

The eroding shoreline of Peche Island will also see added protection because of a project to restore fish habitats. (Submitted by ERCA)

A shrinking island at the mouth of the Detroit River is home to one of three known breeding locations in all of Canada for an endangered catfish species, the Northern madtom.

Waves from large freighters transporting goods along the Great Lakes are damaging the rock formations these fish call home, but a multi-million dollar project could calm the waters and improve the fish's chances of survival. 

"This is probably one of the largest individual habitat projects that the conservation authority has ever undertaken related to a fish habitat," said Kevin Money, director of conservation with the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA).

Once permits are approved, large rock formations will be placed underwater to create a reef on the north coast of Peche Island, which sits between Windsor and Detroit where the river meets Lake St. Clair.

Creating a nursery for fish

Money said there are more than 60 fish species that will benefit from this new formation, which should calm the water and allow vegetation to grow to promote biodiversity in the Detroit River. 

"We're creating a huge amount of habitat in order to improve the fish community," said Money, adding that the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup partnership marked Peche Island as an ideal location for this project. 

Director of Conservation for the Essex Region Conservation Authority Kevin Money said he was floored when the City of Windsor approved millions of dollars for the project. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Money said the habitat could lead fish species like the endangered Northern madtom and the threatened Channel Darter to populate up and down the Detroit River, as well as both Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair. 

"It's pretty special," said Money, who anticipates work will begin in September at the earliest. 

'Great leadership moment' for Windsor council

The project's funding started with a $225,000 donation from the Swim, Drink, Fish foundation through the Weston Foundation, but the majority of the project's money is coming through Federal Gas Tax funding. 

"What a great leadership moment for mayor and council to make that decision to invest in the island," said Money, who said ERCA was "absolutely floored" when they learned the City of Windsor would use the one-time funding for the project. 

Council approved up to $2.5 million for the project, which will also provide some shoreline protection for Peche Island, which has recently watched it's shoreline slip away as lake levels reach record highs. 

Protecting a biodiverse 'gem'

Windsor started a public Peche Island ferry service last year, but had to delay 2019's trips because trails were flooded.

"The island is approximately 86 acres but because of the water levels rising, it's getting smaller every year," said Tom Preney, the city's biodiversity officer. 

Visitors to Peche Island will notice some sections are flooded because of record high water levels in the area. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

One trail was blocked off and certain lookout points were fenced off from the public because of a dangerous cliff, likely caused by waves eating at the edge of the island. 

"It is a challenge and it's something we're working on, hopefully to preserve for many years to come," said Preney.


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