By Howard Meyerson
Manistee, MI – Anglers will be keeping fewer steelhead on the lower portions of Little Manistee and Platte rivers in the future if a proposed regulation change is approved by DNR director, Keith Creigh, in September. A proposal to lower the daily limit from three steelhead to one went to the Natural Resources Commission for discussion last week.
The change is sought by DNR fish managers who want to protect the brood stock for Michigan’s steelhead stocking program. Eggs for state hatcheries are collected at the DNR’s Little Manistee River weir and egg-take facility. The Platte River serves as a back-up source of eggs.
State officials say the number of steelhead returning to the weir has been declining. They are worried about the trend continuing. If it does they may not see enough fish to provide the 4 million eggs needed by Michigan and other states that plant steelhead in Lake Michigan.
“We had a little uptick in 2011, but the numbers have dropped off over the last five to 10 years,” said Jay Wesley, the DNR’s southwest Michigan fisheries supervisor. Wesley has been the acting Lake Michigan basin coordinator for the last year.
“We are comfortable if we get 4,000 adults back, but between 2003 and 2011 we had only one year with 4,000 fish,” Wesley said. “Other years were 2,000 to 3,000. Traditionally we got 6,000 to 7,000 steelhead returning.”
Dennis Eade, the executive director for the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisherman’s Association, said his group supports the change.
“We have been playing Russian Roulette with the Little Manistee,” Eade said. “The importance of protecting brood stock and having a backup source far outweighs any inconvenience to anglers. I’m sure there are other streams nearby that they can fish.
“I couldn’t agree more about making the cut. And the Platte River is the only viable alternative to the Little Manistee for egg collection. I’m pleased the DNR is taking that step.”
Lake Michigan is stocked with 1.6 million steelhead annually. Most are stocked as yearling fish, but some go in as smaller, fall fingerlings. Michigan stocks 540,000 yearlings. The rest are stocked by Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.
Some natural reproduction occurs but little is known about just how much, according to Wesley.
“Other states are reporting that their runs dropped off in 2008, 2009, and 2010,” Wesley said. “We all saw the same uptick in 2011.”
“We don’t know why the numbers are down,” Wesley said. “We don’t know if they are growing slower (because there is less food) and take longer to return or whether the river conditions are right or whether survival of a year class was poor.”
The regulations, if approved, affect the lower waters of the Little Manistee from 300 feet below the weir to Lake Michigan. They will also affect the Platte River from the Upper Platte River weir to Lake Michigan.
The steelhead run on the Platte River has also declined in recent years. It dropped from 1,500 steelhead in 1983 to as low as 35 fish in 2009. State fish managers are now stocking the Platte with steelhead yearlings in an effort to boost that population.
© 2012 Howard Meyerson