This unusual barge can deposit several tons of rock into the lake to help create new fish habitat. / Missouri Department of Conservation
Executive Director, Ozarks Water Watch
Table Rock Lake is more than 50 years old.
When the lake was created, much of the Ozark forest was flooded, and the trees and brush provided cover for the lake’s fish populations. But after 50 years, most of that fish habitat has disappeared.
In 2007, the Table Rock Lake National Fish Habitat Initiative (NFHI) project began with the primary objective to improve fish habitat in Table Rock Lake. Additional goals include: Improve the water quality of Table Rock Lake and its tributaries, monitor the effectiveness and longevity of habitat structures, and develop a framework for a broader national habitat program.
Project partners include the Missouri Department of Conservation, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bass Pro Shops, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Southwestern Power Administration, Ozarks Water Watch, Table Rock Lake Water Quality, James River Basin Partnership and other private groups and citizens.
To improve habitat, the Initiative project places cedar trees, hardwood treetops and recycled Christmas trees in the lake to create habitat with a “fish habitat barge.” The barge was built for this purpose by Tracker Marine in Lebanon, Mo. It is a large pontoon-style boat with a hydraulic lift on the front that raises and dumps the habitat into the lake.
Another barge called the “rock barge” is contracted to place larger (and heavier) habitat structure consisting of rocks, boulders and stumps. The state conservation department gets these materials from developers, contractors and landowners who are clearing land and need to dispose of them.
To date, 1,810 brush piles, 104 rock structures, 76 stump fields, 11 stump/rock combinations and 26 rock “fence” structures have been installed for a total of 2,027 new habitat structures in Table Rock Lake. These structures were placed in areas and depths that are available for fish during most of the year.
They have been located by positioning systems and can be found (and downloaded) on the department’s website at:http://newmdcgis.mdc.mo.gov/tablerock/. In addition, the department has placed green signs on the shoreline near some structures.
The Initiative also recognizes that water quality is a critical component of fish habitat. Funding has been contributed to the James River Basin Partnership, Table Rock Lake Water Quality and Ozarks Water Watch for cost sharing to homeowners to pump out septic tanks and replace failing septic systems.
These water quality organizations have combined over the past five years to pump out more than 2 million gallons of septic effluent and replace more than 100 failing septic systems.
All participants receive a packet of water quality educational materials and septic system maintenance information. Funds are still available to share the cost for pumpouts and for replacing failing septic systems.
To monitor and evaluate the Initiative structures that have been placed in Table Rock Lake, the state conservation department has designated four evaluation techniques: fish sampling, Scuba observations, an angler survey and a black bass biotelemetry study.
By monitoring fish use of the habitat structures, the department is learning what techniques and designs work best for placing habitat during the remainder of the Initiative project and in other lakes in Missouri. Information gathered from the evaluation will allow the department to share ideas and techniques with other state agencies that are working to improve fish habitat in reservoirs.
By all accounts, this is a success story, but is that area going to be loaded with fish? Will a fisherman always be able to find fish off those trees? The only way to find out is to get out there and fish those areas. And the only way for biologists to know if the project is working is if anglers let them know.
Visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website and download the GPS points, print off a map and go fish.