Inner Harbor Fish Hotels
In early 2017, students at Milwaukee’s Bradley Tech High School spent a winter and spring designing and building aquatic rest stops to replace fish habitat that was lost decades ago when steel sheet piling was installed along the rivers of the Inner Harbor. Imagine sleeping standing up in the middle of a busy road, and that’s about how accommodating the steel piling was to the 54 aquatic species that were once at home in the Inner Harbor.
The students layered fry baskets, chosen for their low cost and durability, with gravel, soil, and native plants. Joined by students from Carmen High School and Christ St. Peter Elementary School, they welded the hotels onto 10-foot tall poles. With the technical guidance of experts from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, the students stacked the poles with aquatic habitat including the underwater baskets, fish shelves for cover and protection, and special matting to attract underwater insects, an important food source for fish. In May 2017, the poles were installed in the Inner Harbor.
Partner organization Harbor District, Inc. (HDI), which is overseeing and tracking data for this innovative project, documented results. Yearling perch quickly reappeared. By the end of summer of 2017, crayfish had checked into the fish hotels and found shelter among the lily pads and aquatic grasses that had taken root.
As aquatic life returns to this once highly industrialized area of Milwaukee, people and businesses are coming back too. Today this community-focused project is expanding to include more volunteers and learners, create more fish habitat, and have a greater impact on the Inner Harbor and on Lake Michigan’s ecosystem.