Salmon stocking reduction discussed at Ludington Regional Fisheries Workshop

Chinook salmon stocking reductions for each Michigan port and stream have been determined for the 2013 season. Rationale for the current plans and possibilities for adapting future stocking rates were presented at a recent workshop.

On January 12, fisheries scientists and managers met with Lake Michigan anglers at the Ludington Regional Fisheries Workshop, an annual event hosted by Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant. Jay Wesley, Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit Supervisor for Michigan Department of Natural Resources, discussed the decision to reduce Chinook salmon stocking by 50 percent in Lake Michigan for 2013.

Over half of the Chinook salmon in Lake Michigan are not stocked, and most of these wild born fish are produced by naturally spawning salmon that run into Michigan rivers from the Muskegon River north. Because habitats in Michigan produce most of the wild salmon, Michigan is reducing Chinook stocking by 67 percent while Wisconsin is reducing Chinooks by 38 percent, and planning to reduce stocking of other salmon and trout species in the future.  Indiana and Illinois are making cuts that are more modest to their stocking programs due to their lack of spawning habitat, high number of anglers, and the inefficiency of raising smaller numbers of fish in their hatcheries.

Anglers were overwhelmingly in favor of significant reductions in lakewide Chinook stocking according to a 2012 survey, but the recent release of actual stocking numbers for each river and port has been met with some concern. Rivers in southern Michigan that do not provide good spawning habitat will likely see further declines in late summer pier fisheries and fall salmon runs. In his presentation, Jay Wesley noted that Chinook salmon are primarily managed to provide a big lake fishery while other species, such as steelhead and coho salmon, are managed with more consideration of river fisheries.

It is important to note that stocking is being reduced to limit the risk of a collapse in the salmon and trout fishery, but there is some flexibility in the current plan. An adaptive management strategy is being used, which means that new information from coded wire tag returns, angler feedback, and ongoing studies of salmon population health and baitfish abundance could influence port-specific stocking plans for the future. The 2013 stocking plan may not be the final word, but it is an important step in maintaining the delicate balance between predators and prey fish in Lake Michigan.

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