Chinook stocking pullback planned


Chicago —  A fish that has been swimming Lake Michigan since the 1800s is about to get an education in fisheries management.

The lesson: when food runs scarce, those who eat that food must become equally scarce.

It came as no surprise this month when DNR announced plans to cut Chinook salmon stocking by more than 60 percent beginning next year.

Lake Michigan managers are proposing a total stocking of 690,000 Chinook salmon, down from 1.8 million. The drop-off follows the 2013 stocking cuts, when state natural resource managers agreed to a decrease from previous levels of 3.3 million Chinook stocked each year.

The stocking reduction is actually part of a multistate, multi-agency effort designed to pull Lake Michigan’s salmon and trout fishery out of a slump. Scientists blame a “changing ecosystem and record low abundances of prey fish populations, including alewives.”

Under the new plan, Illinois would stock 90,000 fish each year, Indiana would stock 45,000 fish, Michigan 200,000 and Wisconsin 355,000.

The 2013 stocking featured a 50 percent lakewide Chinook reduction.

“As a signatory to the Joint Strategic Plan for Management of Great Lakes Fisheries, Illinois works cooperatively with other states, tribes and federal agencies to manage multijurisdictional fisheries in Lake Michigan,” Dan Stephenson, chief of the DNR Division of Fisheries, said.  “Stocking fewer numbers of prized Chinook salmon is not a decision we desire, but with continuing declines of prey species, a further reduction in predator stockings is warranted to balance predator and prey fish populations and stabilize the fishery.”

To keep the public informed, DNR scheduled an informational public meeting in Des Plaines on June 23 to discuss the Chinook stocking reduction and salmon and trout management. That meeting was to be held at the CMS Suburban North Regional Office Facility. The agenda included informative presentations on recent changes in the lake ecosystem, Chinook salmon and prey fish population abundances, coded-wire tag returns, Illinois salmon and trout harvest, and tools used to inform trout and salmon management decisions.

The idea for stocking changes was discussed by fisheries management agencies several times in recent years. Meetings with the public in 2012 were designed to help form a path toward salmon management strategy changes, and those meetings resulted in the 2013 changes.

Basically, biologists have broken down reasons for Chinook troubles with a simple explanation: Increases in natural reproduction of Chinook and declines in alewives have caused a predator-prey imbalance in the lake.

In the Illinois portion of Lake Michigan, DNR has worked to monitor that imbalance.

”Our fisheries biologists use the best science available when making management decisions that affect Illinois anglers and the economically important Lake Michigan fishery,” DNR Director Wayne Rosenthal said. “We remain committed to providing the highest quality fishing opportunities for the residents of Illinois and the many non-residents who visit and recreate along the lakefront.”

The proposed stocking plan is based on information gathered from past stockings and spring/summer angler success in catching Chinook from various stocking locations, Stephenson noted.  In addition, the plan should include enough fish to ensure fall spawning runs at egg collection weirs and for stream, harbor and near-shore anglers in each state.

As Lake Michigan’s top predator, it’s common for Chinook to travel hundreds of miles to feed. At any given time during the summer, an Illinois angler may catch Chinook stocked in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan or Indiana.

DNR continues to work on the crisis with the Lake Michigan Committee, a group comprised of the natural resources agencies in Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, as well as the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority.

The effects of a fishery collapse would mimic a situation that  took place in Lake Huron. Anglers and local economies could feel the pinch, as  bait shops would struggle and charter services and guides would be out of business.

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