Wisconsin Seeks Comment on Reduced Trout and Salmon Stocking in Lake Michigan

MILWAUKEE – More information about a proposal from Lake Michigan state and tribal fisheries management agencies to reduce trout and salmon stocking starting in 2013 to better match prey and predator numbers is available online and the public has until Sept. 3, 2012, to comment on the proposed options.

“This has been a lengthy but very worthwhile process involving a lot of stakeholders, and we need to finalize stocking reduction decisions in September so we can put them into action this fall,” said Brad Eggold, southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources. Agencies collect salmon eggs starting in late September for fish that will be stocked in spring 2013. “We should collect only the number of eggs we’ll actually need this fall to make the most efficient use of our staff and funding,” Eggold said.

Despite an exceptional coho harvest and good size-at-age among chinook salmon in 2011, lake-wide assessments of food available for trout and salmon and computer modeling conducted by Michigan State University researchers show that the number of trout and salmon being stocked in Lake Michigan exceeds what can be supported by the available prey fish in the future, particularly as natural reproduction in Michigan waters has increased significantly.

Forage fish surveys done by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2011 show that alewife populations were at the lowest levels since surveys were started in 1973. Biologists believe that continuing current stocking levels would lead to a collapse in both alewives and salmon and trout which would seriously affect Wisconsin’s $500 million Great Lakes sport fishery. “We are trying to avoid the kind of salmon fishing collapse that happened on Lake Huron and seriously affected the sport fishery in Michigan,” Eggold said.

The options looked at and the need for a reduction comes largely from stakeholders, he said. “From what we’ve heard at the various public meeting, the public believes that a reduction needs to take place,” Eggold said. The anglers and charter boat captains are seeing lower weight on chinook in their catches. The chinook anglers are hauling in are 15 to 17 pounds; very rarely are they catching a fish over 20 pounds, he said.

Biologists from the states bordering the lake favor a 50 percent reduction lakewide in chinook stocking with individual states having the option to substitute reductions of other species. Wisconsin supported a plan that eliminated stocking of all Michigan streams that have significant chinook salmon natural reproduction with the rest of the cuts proportionally distributed among all other ports. That translates into a 37.8 percent reduction for Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana and a 61.8 percent reduction for Michigan if only chinook are reduced. In the current proposal, Wisconsin would still be responsible for 37.8 percent,but Michigan would take a higher 66.8 percent reduction which would allow smaller reductions for Illinois and Indiana, which stock much less fish to begin with.

Eggold says that Wisconsin’s proposed reduction would initially come in Chinook stocking. Chinook have the biggest impact on prey populations and changes in Chinook stocking levels are easiest to adjust to for hatcheries. Chinook are stocked out within the same year they are hatched, so reducing their numbers for 2013 would mean Wisconsin would seek from the outset to raise fewer fish. Other trout and salmon, at least in Wisconsin, are stocked out at as year-old fish, or yearlings, so those coho salmon and brown trout destined for stocking in 2013 are already being raised in the hatcheries. Eggold says that DNR would consider spreading the reductions around to other species in the future, with enough lead time.

“We are all deeply committed to protecting the future of the salmon and trout fishery,” Eggold said. “We are also committed to working with one another and the tribes in a cooperative, collaborative fashion to manage our shared resource,” he says.

The latest presentation (given on Aug. 7 in Green Bay and Aug. 9 in Milwaukee) can be viewed here.

Written comments can be sent to Brad Eggold, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 600 E. Greenfield Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53204 or emailed to Bradley.Eggold@Wisconsin.Gov.