Small fry play big part in river's health

CLEVELAND (AP) - Scientists are searching the murky last five miles of the Cuyahoga River for baby fish no bigger than an eyelash -- possible harbingers of a comeback in that part of the river that leads to Lake Erie.

"We know reproduction is happening upstream," said John
Rhoades, who is heading the study for the regional sewer district.
"But the question is: Are the baby fish making it back to the lake?"

The 100-mile Cuyahoga's water quality has improved greatly in the last three decades. But federal regulators say lack of habitat is a problem in the deep shipping channel in a 5.6-mile section through industrial land.
To allow ships to pass, the channel is scraped deep and wide and the banks are lined with vertical steel panels or pilings.
Without the gentle shallow slope of natural riverbanks, there's not enough light for plants that fish need for food and shelter to grow. The slow-moving water also is low in oxygen.
A few miles upstream, researchers typically can find 15 to 19 species of fish, but that drops to four to seven species in the shipping channel, said Roger Thoma, a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
In conjunction with the fry study, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers will assess the habitat in the shipping channel and ways to improve it.
Local leaders in the mid-1990s considered and abandoned an idea to add mechanical aerators to pump dissolved oxygen into the shipping channel, saying it was too expensive and probably wouldn't do enough for the fish to recover.
Lack of habitat is the bigger problem, said James White, who heads the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan, a regional body trying to restore the river's health.
Among ideas being considered are restoring former wetlands or creating small "islands" of habitat along the banks by removing sections of bulkheads.
"If we want to see fish move out to the lake without
suffocating, we need to keep looking at ways the natural conditions can coexist with that end of the river," White said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)