The lake trout conspiracy of Lake Michigan

Who doesn’t like a good conspiracy, especially when the government is involved? Whether it’s “who really killed JFK,” “what’s in Area 51” or more modern ones dealing with secret deals between the U.S., Cuba or Iran, the best conspiracy theories all contain a similar ingredient – a grain of truth.

A conspiracy theory now being argued among Lake Michigan anglers is the “government,” specifically the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geologic Survey, bent on eliminating king salmon and other non-native predators in Lake Michigan in favor of lake trout.

Grains of truth

Most of the money to fund the fisheries section of the Michigan DNR comes from the sale of fishing licenses plus money collected mostly from excise taxes on fishing tackle and appropriated through the Sport Fishing Restoration Program. In other words, fisheries workers in Michigan are beholding to support from sport fishermen.

The core funding for the USFWS comes from congressional appropriations.

Which management agency is likely to be more responsive to the needs or wishes of anglers?  Which management agency has a stated agenda of “restoring” the Great Lakes ecosystem to what it was before European settlers showed up in the Midwest? Which management agency wants to restore lake trout as Lake Michigan’s top predator?

The conspiracy

Though some conspiracy theorists opine the forage base assessments run by the USGS showing declining and potential collapse of the alewife population is just another part of the conspiracy, others think the alewife situation is just one grain of truth. Because of the alewife troubles, the lake-wide stocking of king salmon has been cut, then cut again and again. It’s as though nothing in the lake eats alewives but kings.

Kings do eat lots of alewives, especially as three-year-olds, but that’s just one season. Then the salmon spawn and die when they turn four and a new class of three-year-olds take their place.

What about lake trout? Lake trout eat alewives when they can find them and lakers eat them as three-year-olds, four-year-olds and on and on. Lakers don’t spawn and die. There are 20- and 30-year-old trout in Lake Michigan, all scarfing down alewives.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service, not the states, is in charge of stocking lake trout in Lake Michigan. Have they stopped or cut their stocking in light of the troubled forage base?


In fact, in the early 2000s about 2.5 million lakers were stocked each year . Since 2006, the number has never been less than 3 million and usually tops 3.5 million.

Many of the 3.2 million trout from 2006 are still swimming out there, slurping up alewives as are lots of the 3.6 million from 2007 and, well, do the math. It’s a conspiracy many say.

Not me. I don’t believe in conspiracies.

But I don’t believe Elvis is dead and that one-eyed pyramid on the backside of a dollar bill has to mean something, right?

Categories: Blog Content, MicBlogs, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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