|Written by Photos and story by Michael Meuers,
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"This year Red Lake's long awaited fish bypass will be completed at the Red River outlet on the south shore of Red Lake", said Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain, Jr. in his most recent State of the Band Address. "This will enable fish to make their way back into the lake after they go over the outlet dam". ??
Jourdain pointed out that, prior to the fish by-pass, when the fish went over the falls at the outlet and rock dam, they made their way down the Red River never to return.
The Red River is the only outflow from Red Lake. The river goes to Red Lake Falls, then to Crookston, Grand Forks and then north to Hudson Bay.
"Now with the projects completion, fish will be able to make their way back to the big lake," Jourdain said.
The problem began in 1951 with damn improvements, which allowed more water over the dam, and apparently increased the number of fish that went over the dam as well. The fish later would congregate near the dam with no way to return, being unable to renegotiate the dam. Spring spawning also sends some fish down river...but they want to come back.
Beginning next Spring, Department of Natural Resource (DNR) fisheries staff will go to the fish trap near the bypass and lift the traps each morning.
"When fish swim up river toward the lake, they will resist the strong flow from the dam, and naturally go toward the lesser flow of water to the west - toward the fish trap," explained William "Pat" Brown, Red Lake DNR Fisheries Program Director. "Then they are trapped." ??
Black crappies, walleye, northern, and sturgeon (in the future) will then be separated from the exotic species and released to go through the fish by-pass and back into Red Lake.
At the same time, any exotic species (including the DNR's greatest concern, carp) will be released back into the river, and not allowed to enter the lake. (Sturgeon were reintroduced to Red Lake a few years ago.) ??
According to fisheries director Brown, the DNR expects to work the trap and bypass for six to eight weeks in the Spring, possibly from Early April to mid May, for a total of 45 to 60 days - depending on the need. ??
"Red Lake does not have exotic species such as carp," said Brown. "The huge lake is populated by mostly walleye, northern, and black crappies, and we want to keep it that way."
Carp have always come up the river, but the dam has kept them from entering Red Lake. The dam also serves to help prevent flooding downstream for mostly farm land," said Brown.??
"Culturally, the tribe wanted a way for the fish who might head down stream to spawn - or by accident - to have the opportunity to return," said DNR Administrative Officer, David Conner.
Thus the fish by-pass.
"Fish wanting to return to the lake could not go over or around the dam, now they can. This is important culturally, spiritually and economically," said Conner.
"Fish loss over the damn has cost an estimated $.5 million in fishing loss," noted Brown. "Band members felt the dam was not for the benefit of the tribe but solely for the benefit of downstream flood control interests."
Because of that sense, and less than positive feelings historically for the Corp of Engineers, construction of the fish bypass will greatly enhance the reputation of the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) on the reservation, Brown said.??
Brown went on to say that although of little concern, the dam also keeps the lake from getting too high, notwithstanding the fact that evaporation generally releases more water from the lake than does the dam. ??
Another concern with the dam was maintaining the extensive marsh land on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, the Zah-Gheeng marsh. Brown pointed out that this area is "one of the most prolific wildlife habitats in Minnesota, actually reaching the status of 'wilderness.'"
The dam keeps the lake at about 1174.5 feet above sea level. It is a shallow lake. Lower Red Lake's deepest part is only 38 feet, but Upper Red Lake's deepest part is only 16 feet. Known as a large Prairie Lake, Red Lake is a remnant of glacial Lake Agassiz.