Atlantics a new addition to Lake Huron

Lansing — Salmon and trout anglers on Lake Huron could soon have another fish to target.

The DNR’s Fisheries Division and Lake Superior State University were busy last week stocking more than 90,000 Atlantic salmon in the second-largest Great Lake and some of its tributaries. Atlantic salmon are one of the world’s most prized game fish and are known for their leaping and fighting ability, according to the DNR.

Yearling Atlantic salmon were stocked last week in the St. Marys River (35,000 yearlings), Au Sable River (30,000), Thunder Bay River (20,000), and in the Lexington Harbor (12,300) in southern Lake Huron.

“We anticipate they will be showing up in creels in 2014, but it’s possible to see a few catchable fish at the end of the summer,” Todd Grischke, the DNR’s Lake Huron Basin supervisor, told Michigan Outdoor News. “They’re between 7 and 8 inches when stocked, and they will grow some over the summer.

“Next year we anticipate them showing up in the creels,” Grischke said. “We could even see some returning to the rivers in the fall of 2014, but expect to see good numbers (in the rivers) in the fall of 2015.”

The DNR’s Fisheries Division began experimenting with rearing and stocking Atlantic salmon between 1972 and 1982, but the program had limited returns.

In 1986, Lake Superior State University began rearing Atlantic salmon, and under a memorandum of agreement with the DNR, stocked the fish in the St. Marys River. The fish are reared at the LSSU aquaculture laboratory, located right on the St. Marys River. The lab is the only source of Atlantic salmon eggs in Michigan. The program  creates recreational fishing opportunities on Lake Huron and the

St Marys, while providing LSSU students with educational experiences in fisheries research, culture, and management.

“We received our first shipment of eggs in 1985, and our first stock was in 1987,” said Roger Greil, manager of the aquatic research lab at LSSU. “We had some lean, tough years, but overall it’s gone pretty well. In 2004, we received our last eggs from out of state for our brood stock. Since then, we’ve been self-supported.”

With eggs supplied by LSSU, the DNR began experimental rearing of Atlantic salmon in 2010 at its Platte River State Fish Hatchery in Benzie County. After two years of working through disease problems and investing in equipment to control disease outbreaks, the production of Atlantic salmon yearlings in 2013 has been exceptional.

“This year’s production of Atlantic salmon yearlings has gone according to plan, and we’re pleased to report the fish are healthy and disease-free,” Ed Eisch,  the DNR’s Northern Lower Peninsula area hatchery manager, said in a release. “Fish-production personnel have worked hard to raise these fish from eggs to healthy yearlings. The fish are starting to smolt and are ready to be stocked into a lake environment.”

Grischke said Atlantic salmon, like chinook and coho salmon, return to their natal streams after spending three or four years in the Great Lakes. The hope is that the fish will imprint on the streams they are released into and return there in the future.

“We do not anticipate any natural reproduction,” Grischke said. “LSSU has been stocking  them since 1987 and we have not seen any signs of significant natural reproduction, so we don’t anticipate that happening.”

LSSU keeps about 100 pair of Atlantics for brood stock. They harvest approximately 300,000 eggs annually. LSSU keeps about 65,000 eggs to raise and gives the rest to the DNR. Those 65,000 eggs usually translate into about 25,000 to 30,000 fish that are kept at the facility for about 18 months, then released into the St. Marys River. Surplus fish are planted in Torch Lake in Antrim County, which supports the state’s only inland Atlantic salmon fishery.

“We are a research facility and our number one goal is to teach our students,” Greil said. “The Atlantic salmon program is a good program for us because students get them from eggs to release and everything in between. Basically, our goal is to raise fish for the students to be trained on, then stock them and start with a fresh batch for the new students.”

The DNR and state anglers are the beneficiaries of years of research by LSSU. The goal of the DNR’s new Atlantic salmon program is to “bolster the off-shore fishery in Lake Huron and to possibly see some returns in the fall,” according to Grischke.

“Fisheries Division managers have been working with constituent organizations over the past 18 months to identify appropriate stocking locations for Atlantic salmon,” he said. “Many sites were proposed and evaluated according to things such as stream temperatures, public access, and the ability for the DNR to evaluate returning adults. We also focused on those locations that would optimize the chances of success and provide stream, pier, and open-water fishing opportunities.”

Salmon fishing fell off the map on Lake Huron in 2004 following the collapse of the alewife fishery. Alewives were the main food source for chinook salmon, and when the forage base disappeared, so did the salmon. A few chinooks are still caught by anglers each year, mostly in the northern third of the lake.

A similar collapse of the Atlantic salmon fishery is not anticipated, because they have a different diet than chinook salmon.

“Atlantic salmon are considered generalists,” Grischke said. “They eat smelt, gobies, invertebrates, insects, and a variety of forage fish, as opposed to chinook that eat mainly alewives.”

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