The Future of Salmon Stocking in Lake Michigan

The managed stocking of Chinook salmon into Lake Michigan began in 1967 and proved to be a successful program spearheaded by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. From the advent of the program until the late 1980s, there was a direct relationship between Chinook stocking and harvest numbers; the more salmon the DNR put in, the more sports fishermen and commercial fishermen harvested.

In 1988, harvests crashed and eventually bottomed out in 1995. Chinook salmon, due to overstocking and low prey abundance, began to die off from bacterial kidney disease (BKD). In an attempt to resolve the damaged Chinook populations, stocking reductions were implemented in both 1999 and 2006. These stocking policies sought to reduce Chinook populations in order to allow alewife abundance to rebuild and balance the predator-prey relationship once more. Chinook harvests began to climb again in 2008 and studies revealed healthy Chinook levels of 98% in the lake. In addition to the rehabilitation of the Chinook populations, there was an increase in alewife abundance after 2007. Stocking policies are crucial to the survival of Chinook and trout populations as well as maintaining a balanced predator-prey relationship.

Stocking policies in Lake Michigan are guided by the Lake Michigan Committee, made up of state-based stakeholder groups from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as a core stakeholder group comprised of individuals from each state (including MUCC). The core group identifies objectives and analyzes the outcomes through a complex quantitative computer model that reveals how alewife abundance and Chinook harvests would change with each prescribed stocking policy. Initially, the group reviewed 26 potential stocking options which included increases to stocking, decreases, no-change scenarios and options with the ability to make annual adjustments. In response to stakeholder interests, the options were reduced to 16 that offered a 20% or less risk of low alewife abundance, and eventually the group produced four options available for public comment. The first option is the same policy action implemented in 1999 and 2006. Options 2-4 provide the committee with the ability to use Chinook salmon weight as an indicator of forage abundance and fish health to determine when stocking changes are necessary. Agencies would be able to make changes more often than every five years.

  1. Reduce Chinook salmon stocking lake-wide by 50% and evaluate after 5 years.
  2. Reduce Chinook salmon stocking lake-wide by 50% and make additional reductions if the weight of an age-3 Chinook salmon is less than 7kg. or an increase in stocking if the weight of an age-3 Chinook salmon is over 8kg.
  3. Reduce Chinook salmon stocking lake-wide by 30% and a mix of coho, steelhead and brown trout by 10% with the ability to make additional reductions or increases of stocking depending upon age-3 weight of Chinook salmon.
  4. Reduce Chinook salmon stocking lake-wide by 30% and a mix of coho, steelhead, brown and lake trout by 10% with the ability to make additional reductions or increases of stocking depending upon age-3 weight of Chinook salmon.

In addition, the Lake Michigan Citizens Fisheries Advisory Committee (LMCFAC) met April 10, 2012 and have offered a 5th option to be considered –Stocking of Chinook salmon be stopped for a period of 1 to 2 years coupled with an extensive and intensive monitoring and evaluation program that could trigger stocking efforts should indicators prove that necessary.

The options have been made available for public comment until May 15th, 2012. Comments can be received on April 14th at a public forum at the Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Online participation is also available if you are not able to attend in person, but you must register soon! The forum will be sponsored by the Michigan Sea Grant Association and will run from 1:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. To read more about the status of Lake Michigan and Chinook stocking (including a helpful briefing paper on the subject), you can visit the Michigan Sea Grant Association’s website. You can  also provide written comments to:

Fisheries Division
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
621 N. 10th Street
Plainwell, MI 49080

Or via email to: wesleyj@michigan.gov

There will also be a survey available on the Michigan Sea Grant web site by April 14th at:

http://www.miseagrant.umich.edu/fisheries/stocking/index.html

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  • Bill

    If option 5, for 2 years, was used, it might give an indication as to how much, if any, successful reproduction is occurring out in the wild.