A recent survey of fish living in the Rouge River documented the first sightings of an endangered species in the river since 2005, an indication of improved water quality and fish habitat along the Rouge.
For the first time ever, the Friends of the Rouge (FOTR) group took on college student interns to conduct a survey of the fish living in the river. According to the FOTR’s Volunteer Monitoring Program Manager Sally Petrella, this was “very unusual.”
“We take on many interns, but they usually work directly on our programs or in our office,” she said. “But (student intern) Bob (Muller) approached me wanting to do a survey as he has a lot of experience in sampling for fish and keeping and raising native Michigan fish. He’s studying environmental studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and needed an internship. And it worked out really well.”
One of Muller’s classmates, Kristina Blott, also showed an interest in helping with the survey, and together they surveyed the river’s fish at 22 sites along the Rouge River from May 15 to May 31, documenting close to 4,100 fish representing 23 different species.
The survey was conducted to help determine the current status of fish in the Rouge River. The two interns collected a wealth of data that will be able to tell the FOTR a lot about the river.
“I thought the whole project was a wonderful thing for the Rouge River,” Petrella said. “We were able to collect data at a minimal expense, provide a learning experience for the interns, and involve our volunteers with the surveys. It was a great project. We are very appreciative of the interns’ hard work. And we’re hoping Professor Jerry Smith at the University of Michigan will take a look at our data. We hope the data will be able to tell us a lot of information about the stream.”
Among the fish species found during the survey were the redside dace, a currently endangered species in the state of Michigan that has previously been found in the Rouge River watershed but not in recent years.
“We were very happy to find them, and we were hoping we would,” Petrella said. “They have not been found in recent surveys. The last time the redside dace was found was by the Department of Natural Resources back in 2005.”
Redside dace are small minnows — they grow up to a maximum of 4.7 inches long — and have a distinct white-yellow band extending from the snout to the tail that separates the dark back of the fish from a distinct red band on the lower side of the fish.
They live in small streams with adequate overhanging vegetation for shading of the stream, and abundant coarse woody structure.
Petrella said the redside dace was found at four of the 22 river sites sampled, including at Minnow Pond and Seeley Creek in Farmington Hills.
“The redside dace is a very sensitive minnow,” Petrella said. “It’s a good indication when you find it at a site. It’s a sign that the site is in good shape,” she said.