Michigan planning to shift how coho salmon are stocked along Grand River

Jumping the dam at 4th St. on the Grand River

By Howard Meyerson

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Salmon fishing on the Grand River could get a boost next year. That’s when state fish managers propose to move ahead with a plan to reconfigure how they stock coho salmon there. Fewer will go in at Lansing, and more will be stocked downstream at Lyons and the Rogue River.

State officials say the approach will reduce the number that die from hydroelectric turbines and predators. Anglers will see a better return, and more fish may end up in their coolers.

“My reaction (to the proposed plan) is quite positive, said Dennis Eade, executive director of the Michigan Salmon and Steelhead Anglers Association. “I think we will have more coho coming up the Grand and getting further upstream. We may end up seeing a better fishery as a result.”

That’s the intent, according to state officials, who say young, lake-bound coho will have a better chance of surviving if they do not have to negotiate hydroelectric turbines and additional miles of predator-infested waters. The DNR’s plan will be announced this spring and go before the Natural Resources Commission.

Less than 1 percent of stocked coho salmon now make their journey back upstream to spawn. State officials analyzed salmon passage at Webber dam and found 0.09 percent returned from Lake Michigan in 2001, while 0.06 and 0.07 percent returned in 2002 and 2008 respectively.

That’s not a lot, they say, given that the Grand River gets the second-largest coho-stocking effort in the state, at a cost of $626,850. Only the Platte River gets more, because it is the brood-stock river for Michigan’s coho program.

“If we can move the bulk of the fish downstream of the turbines, that will reduce mortality of these very expensive fish,” said Scott Hanshue, the DNR’s Grand River manager. “We will also reduce predation, because those fish pass through two impoundments getting downstream to Webber Dam. Everything from bass to pike to flatheads, walleye and channel cats will eat them. There are a lot of predators.”

Yearling coho are preferred for the Grand, according to Hanshue. They are larger and heartier than smaller, fall fingerlings. However, yearlings require more time in the hatchery and are more expensive. That makes each a substantial investment.

“If you are losing so many at $1.26 each, that’s not a good use of the resource,” Eade said. “A lot of mortality has to do with dams. Planting them below Lyons is a much wiser choice in terms of return.”

The new stocking strategy calls for only 50,000 to go in at Lansing, where 295,000 are currently stocked. The rest (240,000) would be stocked in the vicinity of Lyons, where only 20,000 are stocked now. Another 25,000 would be stocked on the Rogue River. State officials say the improved survival could result in a stronger Lansing salmon fishery despite the cuts.

“I think it’s a fantastic idea,” said Bob Strek, a Grand Rapids angler and member of the Grand Rapids chapter of the steelheaders. “The Grand Rapids run is usually over quickly. The Rogue River plant isn’t significant to me, but we have members that fish the Rogue.”

Upstream sentiment is less enthusiastic. Jim Bedford, a longtime Grand River angler from Lansing, said the plan is premature. He said it doesn’t take many salmon to entertain Lansing anglers. He is in favor of ideas that improve fishing and save the state money.

However, more should be done to eliminate other factors that affect coho survival, he said. Structural issues at Webber Dam that have since been fixed once trapped returning fish, he said. Other issues remain at Portland. Bedford also suggested using volunteers to monitor the downstream smolt migration. Consumers Energy shuts its Webber Dam turbines down for a period in April to allow young fish to pass downstream, but the timing isn’t always on the mark, Bedford said.

“I don’t think they (the DNR) have tried hard to improve smolt survival. Maybe we need a two-pronged approach — to reduce stocking and improve survival,” Bedford said.

Anna Werner has a different view. She owns Grand River Bait and Tackle in Lansing and supplies local anglers with their tackle. She called the Lansing salmon run unpredictable. She doesn’t rely on it for income.

“A lot of years, it’s not really worth bothering with fishing for them,” Werner said. ‘This past fall was one of the better ones. We saw good business from it. But the fall before was virtually nothing. We were prepared for salmon, but we can’t really count on it.

“As a business person, I’d rather focus on pike and bass. Common carp is a big thing for us. As a bait-shop owner I’d prefer to concentrate on that. It’s more stable.”

© 2012 MLive.com. All rights reserved.


About Howard Meyerson

After more than 30 years in the outdoor writing business, you would think I'd know better.
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