Lake Michigan anglers want salmon and other species cut

Without stocking cuts, fewer or smaller Chinook salmon could be found in Lake Michigan or its tributaries like the Manistee River where this was caught. Photo by: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

A recent survey of Lake Michigan anglers found just over half would cut Chinook stocking by 30 percent and cut coho, steelhead, brown trout and lake trout by 10 percent. That was one of four options presented to anglers this spring as fish managers from the Lake Michigan states wrestled with a need to reduce stocking in light of declining alwewife populations.

Michigan officials say they are inclined to make even steeper Chinook cuts and leave the other species alone.

“Chinooks are the pigs at the table. It makes sense to us to manage the primary predator” said Jay Wesley, the southwest Michigan fisheries manager for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“Chinook stocking we can adjust each year, but coho, brown trout and lake trout are in the hatcheries for 18 months,” Wesley said. “There is a lag time in adjusting stocking. It’s a more difficult program to implement.”

Wesley has been spearheading that agency’s effort to determine how best to establish a sustainable salmon fishery in Lake Michigan. That year-long process involved working with other Lake Michigan states to develop stocking scenarios that conserve declining alewife stocks. Chinook feed only on alewives where other species feed on a variety of things.

Anglers were asked this spring to choose one of four options developed by the multi-state task force. Of 580 anglers that filled out the survey, 54 percent said Option 4 was “best” while 20 percent said it was “worst.” That called for cutting Chinook by 30 percent and 10 percent for other species along with adjusting future stocking based on the results of ongoing monitoring.

Option 3 was a 30 percent Chinook reduction and 10 percent reduction for steelhead, coho and brown trout. Lake trout would be unaffected. It was ranked “best” by 15 percent and “worst” by 8 percent.

Option 2 was a 50 percent Chinook reduction and future adjustments based on monitoring. Only 20 percent said it was “best” while 2 percent said it was “worst.”

Option 1 was a 50 percent Chinook reduction and waiting to see what happened. Eleven percent called it ‘best” while 69 percent said it was the “worst.”

Wesley said Option 2 is the state’s preferred choice. He recommended it at the June 28 meeting of the Lake Michigan committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

Michigan angler reactions were mixed about that. Denny Grinold, a Grand Haven charter captain and the chairman of the committee of advisors for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, called Option 2 his “favorite.’.

“Chinooks are the big munchers,” Grinold said. “I hate to see the other species cut for the simple reason that they are money in the bank. If something happens to Chinooks, they will be there to fall back on.”

But Dennis Eade said he was “disappointed” the state had not seriously considered a two-year moratorium proposed by citizen advisors on a state fishery panel.

“We wanted a two-year hiatus on any Chinook planting,” said Eade, the executive director for the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisherman’s Association. “By not doing that I think we face a possible crash. We can accept Option 2, but we want to alert the public that the situation is serious.”

The moratorium got little traction because the no-stocking option had been examined previously.

“It gave good results but didn’t drastically change the outcome,” Wesley said. “And we didn’t want to hijack the process we had been going through.”

Final decisions were expected on June 28, but the committee didn’t finish its work and will make those decisions in late July.

Surveyed anglers were not in agreement about where cuts should occur. Some wanted them evenly divided among the Lake Michigan states. Others wanted Michigan to take most of the cuts because of the natural reproduction that occurs on its streams.

Wild fish comprise nearly 60 percent of the Lake Michigan Chinook salmon fishery. Michigan streams produce the majority of those fish.

Wesley said those wild fish swim all over the lake by the time they are two years of age. They are caught off any port.

“That opinion (to have Michigan cut back most on stocking) came mostly from out-of-state. We don’t think Michigan should take all the cuts.”

The survey results were tallied from input provided by 580 anglers from states bordering Lake Michigan.  That included 271 anglers from Michigan, 128 from Illinois, 118 from Wisconsin and 34 from Indiana.

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© 2012 Howard Meyerson

This story and more can be found at: Michigan Outdoor News

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