Innovation, excitement to begin at Boardman River System in Traverse City – Part 2

Fall fish migration in full swing at Boardman River Weir/James Price Trap and Harvest Facility.

Located in downtown Traverse City, the Boardman weir allows visitors to watch fish jump up the steps of the watery ladder and then splash around in the raceways. Then the fish are counted, weighed and sorted.Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Located in downtown Traverse City, the Boardman weir allows visitors to watch fish jump up the steps of the watery ladder and then splash around in the raceways. Then the fish are counted, weighed and sorted.Photo: Michigan Sea Grant

Fall at the Boardman River is an exciting time. As mentioned in Part 1 of this story, the Union Street Dam site in downtown Traverse City has just been selected for a major 10-year demonstration project to block sea lamprey and yet encourage desirable fish migrating to and from Lake Michigan. Fall at the Boardman River Weir/James Price Trap and Harvest Facility also means salmon migration is running full-tilt and this facility is an exciting place to get close to these big fish.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been planting Pacific salmon in the Boardman River since the mid-1980s. Hundreds of the chinook, coho and other species such as steelhead, brown trout, and others migrate up from Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay and corral at a bend in the river waiting to swim up the ladder into the trap and harvest facility. Located in downtown Traverse City, the weir allows visitors to watch the fish jump up the steps of the watery ladder and then splash around in the raceways. About once a week, typically when about 1,000 fish are in the facility, the fish are hauled out, counted & weighed and those other than coho and chinook are passed back out of the transfer facility into the river. Prior to the construction of the weir in 1987, salmon would head up small tributaries of the Boardman such as Kids Creek and then spawn and die in these populated areas, creating a smelly nuisance problem. Traverse City Light & Power built the facility, naming it after James Price, a board member, and has worked collaboratively with the state DNR to harvest fish since then, removing them for cat & dog food and smoked salmon, while fish eggs are made into caviar or used for other purposes.

The Boardman system is one place in an indicator system showing the Lake Michigan salmon and trout fishery is undergoing changes. In 2015, total salmon captured for the entire fall season at the Boardman weir was only 700 fish, the lowest number ever recorded. Compare this 700 number with just four years earlier where in 2011 a total of 17,983 fish were captured. Numbers are looking better, however, in 2016:  After just the first cleanout of the weir on Sept. 20, 2016, 924 fish were taken, more than the full fall season in 2015, and a second harvest also took place on Sept. 29, 2016. A full fall season at the weir typically runs mid-September to end of October.

The changes in the Lake Michigan fishery are causing management agencies such as the state DNR to reduce the salmon stocking numbers to keep a prey base of alewives and other species viable. There will continue to be discussions about the changes in Lake Michigan ecosystem and fishes amongst many state, tribal, federal, and citizen groups. It is exciting to know of the long-term importance the Boardman system has in the Lake Michigan fishery discussion, as both the weir and the future innovative fish passage systems will be key long-term assets.

If you can, consider taking a tour of the Boardman weir – it is open to the public and school groups through October. Fall tours at the Boardman as well as the Platte River weir (Benzie County) and the Little Manistee weir (Manistee County) are run by staff from the Michigan DNR’s Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery Visitor Center and Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center. Come learn about salmon, how weirs and fish ladders work, about some of the invasive species that are dealt with and their impact on Michigan’s fisheries.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

This is Part 2 of this two-part story. Read Part 1 here.

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