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Great Lakes Article:

Black River home to expanding aquatic life



The Associated Press
12/16/2002

LORAIN, Ohio - A river best known for its environmental problems is now home to fish that are thriving in a shallow manmade shelf with plants and rocks.

The Black River project "can't be appreciated until you dip a line in the water," said Roger Thoma, a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. "It's pretty amazing what we're finding."

The project is a first for Ohio and unique to the Great Lakes. Its success could spur a similar project in the 5-mile shipping channel in the Cuyahoga River.

The Lorain Port Authority built the fish shelf, transforming a former 25-acre industrial site on the river's west bank into a riverfront park as part of a $7 million state-funded project.

The port authority had destroyed 400 feet of the natural bank along the river to create a dock. Building the dock wall along the bank "is the same as pouring toxic chemicals in the water," Mr. Thoma said. "It creates a desert for the fish."

So the Ohio EPA required the port to enhance fish habitat.

The shallow-water shelf in this city west of Cleveland re-creates 800 feet of wetland along the Black River, one of Ohio's most polluted waterways.

"We want this to be a showcase for an urban, working river," said Richard M. Novak, Lorain's port authority director.

When Mr. Thoma sampled the area in June, one month after the first section of habitat was built, he found 20 different species - the most he has ever found there.

He expects the number and variety of fish to be greater next summer, when he samples again.

"The fish populations are recovering and improving," said Mr. Thoma, who devised the fish shelf. "We're seeing big improvement right away. But if we wait even longer, we'll see more."

Rocks, shallow water and plants provide a place for fish to lay eggs, and, once they hatch, a place for young fish to hide as they grow. Those small fish in turn attract bigger fish.

The project is another step in the recovery of the Black River, an industrial waterway that receives bulk shipments for agriculture and the steel and construction industries.

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