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Aquatic Habitat Program Celebrates 20 Years

To maintain, restore or enhance the capacity of a waterbody to produce and sustain fish.

Bluegills hover over their spawning beds at Louisville State Recreation Area (SRA) where a $500,000 angler access project to install fishing piers was completed in 2012. Opposite: Biologists get an early start on a day long renovation of the fishery of Lake Ogallala.
Bluegills hover over their spawning beds at Louisville State Recreation Area (SRA) where a $500,000 angler access project to install fishing piers was completed in 2012. 

In the mid-1990s, Nebraska’s reservoirs constructed during the middle part of the 20th century were showing their age: Basins had filled with silt, shorelines had eroded, water quality had degraded, and less-than-desirable fish communities made for poor angling.

Aquatic Habitat Stamp
Aquatic Habitat Stamp

Anglers wanted change. More than 650 anglers attended 19 meetings across the state beginning in 1993 to discuss problems and possible solutions related to aging reservoirs and aquatic habitat. Seventy anglers were invited to meet with biologists and others at a three-day meeting in 1994, in which they identified priorities and developed a course of action for addressing the state’s aquatic habitat issues.

From this meeting, what would become the Nebraska Aquatic Habitat Program and the Aquatic Habitat Stamp were born.

In 1996, the Nebraska Legislature passed a new law requiring most anglers to buy a stamp in order to fish in the state. Money generated by sales of the newly-established Aquatic Habitat Stamp went into a fund, which was only used to make improvements to aging Nebraska waters.

Biologists get an early start on a day long renovation of the fishery of Lake Ogallala.

More than 20 years later, sales of the stamp have generated more than $22 million for improvements to 127 waterbodies across the state. Many additional funding partners, including the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Fund, Natural Resources Districts and cities across the state, have contributed an additional $73 million for Aquatic Habitat Program projects, which have improved water quality, removed sediment, stabilized shorelines, added submerged aquatic habitat structures, provided for the construction of fishing docks and piers and much more.

Because it was the first of its kind, the American Fisheries Society recognized it with a Sport Fish Restoration Outstanding Project award in 1998. The true beneficiaries of this program have been anglers, who have better access and opportunity in Nebraska than ever before.

Now, and into the future, anglers will continue to reap the benefits of so many successful projects across Nebraska.

– Don Gabelhouse, Fisheries Division Administrator 1993-2016

The locations of Nebraska waterbodies that have benefitted from Aquatic Habitat and Angler Access projects are statewide.

The locations of Nebraska waterbodies that have benefitted from Aquatic Habitat and Angler Access projects are statewide.

Recent Aquatic Habitat and Angler Access projects

: Rick Wheatley fishes for trout in Long Pine Creek at Long Pine SRA in Brown County during the winter. Coolwater streams are also on the Aquatic Habitat Program’s plan to improve fish habitat and angler access.
Rick Wheatley fishes for trout in Long Pine Creek at Long Pine SRA in Brown County during the winter. Coolwater streams are also on the Aquatic Habitat Program’s plan to improve fish habitat and angler access.
Over the last 6 years a major project has improved access and restored aquatic habitat on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in Cherry County, setting the stage for its return as a world class fishery once common carp are removed.
Over the last 6 years a major project has improved access and restored aquatic habitat on the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in Cherry County, setting the stage for its return as a world class fishery once common carp are removed.
A soon-to-be underwater view of the aquatic habitat and angler access improvements underway at Conestoga Reservoir southwest of Lincoln. Excavation, basin sculpting, rock piles and root wads are great for fish, while the new breakwater and ADA piers will be great for fishing. To see drone footage of this project, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/aquatichabitatprogram.
A soon-to-be underwater view of the aquatic habitat and angler access improvements underway at Conestoga Reservoir southwest of Lincoln. Excavation, basin sculpting, rock piles and root wads are great for fish, while the new breakwater and ADA piers will be great for fishing.

Drone footage of the project is below; view more on the Aquatic Habitat Program webpage.

Fisheries biologists Jared Lorensen and Caleb Huber conduct an electrofishing survey on West Brady Wildlife Management Area, one of seven interstate lakes recently improved for angler access.
Fisheries biologists Jared Lorensen and Caleb Huber conduct an electrofishing survey on West Brady Wildlife Management Area, one of seven interstate lakes recently improved for angler access.
At Shell Lake Wildlife Management Area, northeast of Gordon, in Cherry County, an early Aquatic Habitat project was conducted to increase depth in this shallow natural Sandhills lake to improve fish growth and survival.
At Shell Lake Wildlife Management Area, northeast of Gordon, in Cherry County, an early Aquatic Habitat project was conducted to increase depth in this shallow natural Sandhills lake to improve fish growth and survival.
The restoration of Summit Lake was prior to the addition of angler access into the Aquatic Habitat program. It still produces great fishing and is now getting access enhancements like a new ADA fishing pier added to this breakwater in 2017.
The restoration of Summit Lake was prior to the addition of angler access into the Aquatic Habitat program. It still produces great fishing and is now getting access enhancements like a new ADA fishing pier added to this breakwater in 2017.

Find more information at OutdoorNebraska.org/fisheriesprograms, or feel free to contact Aquatic Habitat Program Manager Mark Porath. 

Written by Jeff Kurrus, Editor of NEBRASKAland

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