Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

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Green Bay, Wis. — Significant cuts in chinook salmon stocking in Lake Michigan are on the table as Great Lakes fisheries staff continue to deal with balancing game fish and their available food sources.

About 20 people showed up Tuesday, Aug. 7, for a DNR public meeting at the agency’s Northeast Region office in Green Bay to discuss salmon- and trout-stocking reductions. Another meeting was held Aug. 9 in Milwaukee.

DNR Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor Brad Eggold said four stocking-reduction options are being considered, with all four involving chinook salmon:

  • A 50-percent reduction in chinook stocking and an evaluation after five years.
  • A 50-percent reduction in chinook stocking and altering chinook stocking based on feedback.
  • A 30-percent reduction in chinook stocking and 10-percent reduction in other species (except lake trout) and altering stocking based on feedback.
  • A 30-percent reduction in chinook stocking and 10-percent reduction in other species and altering stocking based on feedback.

Of the four, option No. 2 – a 50-percent reduction in chinook stocking and altering future stocking based on feedback – is likely the option that will be put in place, although most anglers and other members of the public that responded to a recent online survey indicated a preference for option No. 4, according to Eggold.

“We have this 50-percent reduction for 2013 that’s only going to be chinook salmon,” he said. “In 2014 and 2015, it could include other species, such as lake trout. We could use other species as part of this reduction. Lake trout could be part of the solution.”

Under that plan, the state of  Michigan will have the highest chinook stocking decline from 2012 to 2013.

Chinook reductions would be Wisconsin, 1,164,000 to 723,674 (37.8 percent); Illinois, 250,000 to 155,428 (37.8 percent); Indiana, 225,000 to 139,885 (37.8 percent); and Michigan, 1,688,500 to 644,762 (61.8 percent). The total among the four states would drop 50 percent from 3,327,500 this year to 1,663,750 next year.

“The option we’re going to pick is probably not going to please everybody,” he added. “The other three states (Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana) really thought this was the way to go. In general, we’re going to use this as a basis and model for the reductions. These are relatively tentative decisions at this point, but as of right now, this is what it looks like.”

Concern over the stability of Lake Michigan’s alewife population has increased in recent years after Lake Huron’s population of alewives crashed and chinook harvests there declined rapidly. The DNR began stocking chinooks in the Great Lakes in the late 1960s to control alewives, an exotic species.

“Computer modeling, as well as forage and game fish survey data, suggest that we risk a future collapse in alewives and game fish if stocking levels stay the same,” said Bill Horns, DNR Great Lakes fisheries specialist.
“We hope we’re going to stabilize the alewife population and see larger fish,” Eggold said.

Fisheries biologists from the four states came up with five possible options after taking a look at model results and consulting with anglers regarding future stocking. Those options included staying with current stocking levels or implementing one of four reduced stocking patterns for chinooks and coho salmon; and steelhead, brown, and lake trout.

Dick Baudhuin, of Sturgeon Bay, a Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegate for Door County, attended the Green Bay meeting.

“I remember when there were no salmon (in Lake Michigan),” he said. “The charter boat people at that time were doing well. I feel pretty strongly that if we invest something into fish, if it has a relatively short life, it’s junk, it’s the scrap heap, it’s done. I’m going to put my money on one item that’s going to last 15 to 20 years. That, to me, is the comparison between trout and salmon. People will go fishing for rainbow, brown, or lake trout. The perception of sportfishing depending on salmon is a misperception.”

Eggold is interested in getting feedback on the plan. He can be reached by phone at (414) 382-7921 or via e-mail at bradley.eggold@wi.gov.

“We’re going to be taking comments and you can certainly send them in, but we have to get rolling. Chinook salmon egg-taking is right around the corner,” he said.

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