By Howard Meyerson
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Atlantic salmon will again be stocked at four Lake Huron locations in 2014. State officials are gearing up for the second round in a five-year experiment to determine if an Atlantic salmon fishery can be created there.
Approximately 100,000 yearling Atlantics were planted in the lake during the spring of 2013, but none appeared in the catch so far, according to state fisheries officials.
“We expect that all that to start rolling next summer,” said Todd Grischke, the Lake Huron basin coordinator for the Michigan DNR. “A lot can happen between now and then, but we will be evaluating the harvest each of the next two seasons and weaving that information into a long-term plan of where to go.
“Next year we are looking at stocking 130,000 yearlings. And, if all goes well, we will look at a 150,000 more in 2015 and stick to the same study design.”
Atlantic salmon may help fill the fisheries gap that was created in Lake Huron when Chinook salmon population collapsed in 2003 and 2004. Grischke and others are hopeful that they will fare better being a more opportunistic feeder. Chinook salmon rely on alewives which virtually disappeared. Atlantics are also thought a good compliment to the multi-species fishery that is developing in Lake Huron now. Walleye, steelhead, perch and some Chinooks are all being caught.
STOCKING TO INCREASE OVER NEXT TWO YEARS
The 2014 plan calls for increasing Atlantic stocking at each of the four locales that got them this year. The St. Mary’s River will get 50,000 yearlings in 2014, up from 35,000. Alpena/Thunder Bay will get 25,000 instead of 20,000, and the Au Sable River will get 35,000, up from 30,000. Lexington will get 20,000 rather than 15,000.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Frank Krist, an avid angler from Rogers City and the chairman of the Lake Huron Citizen’s Advisory Committee, a group of anglers convened by the DNR for discussion and review. The group recently reviewed the plan.
“The fish stocked this (past) spring will be big enough to be caught in the 2014 spring fishery,” Krist said. “And next fall about 30 to 50 percent of those fish will be mature enough to return to the stocking sites to spawn.”
Grischke said he is pleased to see that Lake Huron anglers are supporting the program. Angler attitudes have shifted considerably since the bottom fell out of the Lake Huron salmon fishery.
“It’s incredible,” Grischke said. “Two or three years ago it was all doomsday and rock bottom; the Chinook fishery had gone to hell. But as we went around the room (at the recent LHCAC) people were thrilled with the walleye, steelhead and Chinook fishing. There are perch up north and that shift in attitude was good to hear.”
Krist said having a multi-species fishery works well rather than relying on one major fish species. It provides a buffer when one or another species is not as available. The Atlantics, he said, could help to further diversify the fishery.
2014 CATCH WILL TELL A LOT
Jim Johnson, the DNR’s Alpena Fisheries Research Station manager said the 2014 catch will start to shed light on what might be ahead. Natural reproduction is not expected at current stocking sites due to a lack of suitable habitat. But if the Atlantics show up in “economically viable” numbers then a future decision will involve looking at where else they may be stocked that has better spawning habitat.
“The exciting thing about their spawning biology is that they run in June and July at the height of the fishing season,” Johnson said. “That makes them exceptionally vulnerable to angling unlike Pacific salmonids which run when people are pulling their boats and getting ready for deer season.
“They come in close to shore and are available to big and small boat anglers. At the start of their migrations they are easy to catch. They concentrate in river mouths and rivers and are still feeding in the early part of the run. When they first enter the river they are chowing down.”
Studies of Atlantic salmon stocked in the St Mary’s River by Lake Superior State University show a better return to creel than other species like steelhead, Chinook salmon and brown trout that are planted by the Michigan DNR in Lake Huron. But Johnson cautions that catch numbers on the St Mary’s may reflect unique fishing conditions there that are different from fishing the open lake. Overall, however, he is optimistic about what is ahead.
Aaron Switzer, the biologist at the Platte River hatchery where the Atlantic salmon are reared for a year, said the 2013 decision by Lake Michigan states, to cut back on Chinook salmon stocking in that lake, has freed up hatchery space for the expanding Atlantic Salmon program.
“I have three raceways with different densities (numbers of fish) so I can evaluate how well they grow or don’t grow,” Switzer said. “We are looking at how much space we need for individual fish. I have one with 35,000 Atlantics, another with 45,000 and a third with 50,000.
“If we raised cohos, we could raise 100,000 in one raceway, but Atlantics don’t do well when crowded. They start nipping at each other and start to have issues as they grow.”
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