Survey finds angler satisfaction dropped from 2014 to 2015

Volunteers with the Salmon Ambassadors program experienced slow fishing for Chinook salmon last year. Wild salmon made up the majority of the catch in most regions.

Salmon Ambassadors fact sheets for the Grand Haven area and six other regions of Lake Michigan and northern Lake Huron are now available online.

Salmon Ambassadors fact sheets for the Grand Haven area and six other regions of Lake Michigan and northern Lake Huron are now available online.

The Salmon Ambassadors program is an angler science project led by Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension, and funded in part by Detroit Area Steelheaders. Anglers who volunteer for the program share information on wild and stocked catches with one another — and with biologists.

Volunteers track the length of each Chinook salmon caught over the course of the fishing season and look for a clipped adipose fin that indicates a stocked fish. At the end of the season, volunteers complete a short survey and return their data sheets. Results from 2015 were released in March 2016.

Survey responses showed a decline in angler satisfaction. In 2014, 44% of volunteers agreed* they were pleased with fishing experiences, even though only 13% agreed that Chinook salmon fishing was good relative to the past five years. In 2015, 21% of surveyed anglers agreed they were pleased with fishing overall and 0% agreed that Chinook salmon fishing was good relative to the past five years.

Although the Chinook salmon is only one of the eight trout and salmon species caught by Great Lakes anglers, it is a particularly important species for Great Lakes trollers. A combination of reduced prey fish availability and high natural reproduction of Chinook salmon led to their decline in Lake Huron in the early 2000s. In Lake Michigan, Chinook salmon stocking was reduced by 50% in 2013 in hopes of staving off a similar crash. Fewer salmon to feed would be a good thing, but managers have a much easier time controlling stocked fish than wild fish.

In 2014, Salmon Ambassadors found that wild fish accounted for 65-75% of the Chinook catch in Michigan waters of Lake Michigan. Results were somewhat similar in 2015, with wild Chinooks making up 72-81% of the catch in four Michigan regions of Lake Michigan:

  • 72% wild in Manistee
  • 81% wild in the Ludington area (including Pentwater)
  • 74% wild in the Grand Haven area (Whitehall to Saugatuck)
  • 72% wild in southwest Michigan (South Haven to St. Joseph)

Door Peninsula, Wisconsin, stood out in both 2014 and 2015 as the region with the highest-rated Chinook salmon fishing in July and August. The contribution of wild fish to Door County volunteer catches rose from 62% wild in 2014 to 69% in 2015.

Each region mentioned above included at least four volunteers reporting complete results on at least 170 Chinook salmon. In 2015, volunteers in two other regions reported low catch rates for Chinook salmon and were not able to record data on as many fish.

Southern Wisconsin area volunteers reported only 37 Chinook salmon and northern Lake Huron volunteers reported only 35 Chinook salmon caught in 2015. These regions also stood out as having the lowest contribution of wild fish in 2015, with 41% wild in southern Wisconsin and 37% wild in northern Lake Huron.

Complete results are now available on fact sheets posted on the Salmon Ambassadors web page.

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.

* For purposes of this article, respondents who answered “agree” or “strongly agree” are reported as agreeing with a statement, while those who answered “neutral,” “disagree” or “strongly disagree” are considered not in agreement; respondents who answered “unsure” were not included in calculation of percentages reported herein.

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