By Howard Meyerson
Michigan’s experiment with stocking Atlantic salmon in Lake Huron has yet to produce the results that anglers had hoped for this summer, but state fisheries managers say they aren’t worried. The Lake Huron Atlantic salmon program is its relative infancy,
“Our program is still young,” said Todd Grischke, Michigan DNR’s Lake Huron Basin coordinator. “It’s true we haven’t seen many (of ours) show up in the fishery, but we hope to see them this fall. We’re in our second year of full-production stocking and we have one year of stocked fish we expect to start showing up. The next milestone comes this fall when some should return (to spawn) on two tributaries.”
Approximately 100,000 hatchery-raised Atlantics salmon were stocked by the DNR in 2013. Another 130,000 were stocked this year. Those fish, marked with adipose fin clips, were released at four Lake Huron sites: St. Mary’s River, Thunder Bay River, AuSable River and the port of Lexington. Grischke and others think Atlantics can help fill the void created in 2004 when the Lake Huron chinook salmon fishery crashed.
The experimental program has several components, according to Grischke. The first was learning how to successfully raise them in the Platte River State Fish Hatchery, and determining just how many could be raised there. The next was determining good stocking sites on the lake, locations that could produce open-water and river fisheries. That evaluation, he says, is currently under way. The DNR goal is to have at least a 2 percent return to angler’s creels each year.
The Platte hatchery is now operating at capacity, Grischke said. It will produce 150,000 Atlantics for stocking in 2015, but additional space is being sought at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie so that Platte River fish can be held longer, until they are larger. The LSSU Aquatic Research Lab has its own long-standing Atlantic salmon rearing program that stocks the St. Mary’s River with 35,000 to 40,000 fish annually. Those fish are showing up all over Lake Huron.
“We’ve been catching them,” exclaims Frank Krist, an avid angler from Rogers City and chairman of the DNR’s Lake Huron Citizen’s Advisory Committee. “This year there was a big school of Atlantics off Rockport and they moved to Tawas where people were catching them off the piers. Some were caught in Alpena and as far away as Port Huron.”
Krist was one who hoped to see the Platte River fish in this year’s spring and summer fishery. That they did not appear may suggest they didn’t do well. The Platte Hatchery, he says, did their part just fine, but the fish grown there were released to Lake Huron in April when they were just five to six inches long. The LSSU Atlantics are held until they are six to seven inches long and better able to survive. They are also released two months later, in June, a time when food is more abundant in the lake.
“By June the lake is saturated with sucker fry and insects. There is a lot more food available and it is easier for the fish to get started,” Krist said. “I am guessing that the survival was lower (for the DNR’s fish) and that we won’t see many of them.”
Grischke said using the LSSU facility will buy time for the state’s Atlantic stocks. They will have a chance to grow larger and acclimate better to Lake Huron waters which are used in the raceways there.
“At the Platte River the water warms quickly and the potential for disease becomes possible, so we get them out the door there in April,” Grischke said.
Lake Huron anglers are being asked to help researchers by turning in the Atlantic salmon heads of those fish with an adipose fin clip. A list of drop-off sites can be found online at the DNR website: Michigan.gov/dnr. The heads contain an embedded micro-tag with information about where when the fish were stocked. Anglers are also being asked to report their catches or submit photos to the DNR’s Gaylord office. That address is Gaylord Customer Service Center, Attn. Tim Cwalinski, Fisheries Biologist, 1732 W. M-32, Gaylord, MI 49735
Of 75 Atlantic salmon photos submitted to date, only one showed a Platte River Atlantic salmon. The rest were LSSU fish which are marked with other than adipose clips.
“It’s creating a buzz and lots of excitement up and down the coast because the LSSU fish are showing up in the fishery,” Grischke said.
“Our hope is that our fish will start coming this year and next.”
In that, he is not alone.
This column appears on Mlive Outdoors