Lansing – State fisheries officials plan to stock as many as
20,000 native Great Lakes muskies this year after a series of
disease-related delays set the program back a decade.
Department of Natural Resources and Environment Lake Michigan
Basin Coordinator Jim Dexter said the state soon will collect
native Great Lakes muskie eggs from Lake St. Clair and the Detroit
River to rear at the DNRE’s Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery this year. The
DNRE hopes to plant the fingerlings in Barry County’s Thornapple
Lake and Otsego County’s Big Bear Lake this fall for broodstock,
the first step in an effort to eventually re-establish Great Lakes
muskie populations throughout the state, Dexter said.
“In a good year, we are hoping to rear about 20,000 of the Great
Lakes strain for stocking throughout the whole state, including the
U.P.,” Dexter said. “If we’re successful in getting eggs and we’re
successful in rearing … we would expect to have our first
stockings this October.”
Roughly a decade ago, DNRE officials planned to launch an effort
to raise Great Lakes muskies for stocking, but disease issues at
the state hatcheries prevented the program from materializing. The
Great Lakes Muskie Program hit another snag years later with the
discovery of viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a fish virus known as
VHS, in Michigan waters, Dexter said.
“Health issues have gotten in the way every time we got
started,” he said, adding that effective sanitizing techniques for
eggs have eliminated the concern about VHS.
Currently, the DNRE stocks as many as 40,000 northern muskies
each year, mostly in inland lakes. The department typically doesn’t
stock that strain in lakes that connect to the Great Lakes to
prevent cross breeding and contaminating the genetics of small,
native populations of Great Lakes muskies that inhabit those
waters, said Matt Hughes, the DNRE fisheries biologist who oversees
fish rearing at the Wolf Lake hatchery.
“Right now we are fairly restricted in what waters we can stock
northern muskies in because of genetics reasons,” Hughes said.
The advantage of stocking Great Lakes muskies, also known as
spotted muskies, is “they are indigenous to Michigan, so we could
pretty much stock them in any waters we see fit,” Hughes said.
“Being that they are indigenous and they are used to this climate
… they should have a higher chance of natural reproduction” than
northern muskies, which do not reproduce well in Michigan.
The state also had stocked tiger muskies for years, but stopped
in the early 1990s primarily because of the high cost of hatchery
renovations necessary to continue the program, he said.
Dexter said officials plan “to maintain the program with
northerns at about half, or 20,000 of (both spotted and northern
Will Schultz, president of the Michigan Muskie Alliance, said
that while the initial fall plant of Great Lakes muskie fingerlings
will head to broodstock lakes, the next priority would be lakes
such as the Antrim Chain of Lakes, Indian River, and other waters
to supplement natural populations that “are barely hanging on.”
“What we have currently are a lot of good … inland lakes, but
they are almost entirely maintained by stocking” northern muskies,
Schultz said. “They are not ever going to self-sustain.
“On some of the northern waters and some of the drowned river
mouth lakes … most are self-sustaining” with Great Lakes muskies,
he said. “They will just need supplemental stocking to aid in the
natural reproduction that is already going on.”
Hughes said that development of marinas, breakwalls, homes, and
other construction along the state’s shorelines has been the
biggest contributor in the gradual decline of muskie populations
over the years.
Ultimately, DNRE officials hope to raise enough Great Lakes
muskies to repopulate some areas where the fish once roamed, Hughes
“There were historic populations in Muskegon Lake, Mona Lake,
White Lake … that don’t exist anymore,” Shultz said.