Coaster brookie initiative explained
Written by The Mining Journal   
Sunday, 12 December 2004 17:44

The current status of Lake Superior coaster brook trout is one of concern, and the time frame for re-establishing the fish in the area is long-term.

Rehabilitation efforts and the history of Lake Superior coasters were discussed Thursday at a presentation by representatives from the Lake Superior Coaster Brook Trout Initiative at Northern Michigan University.

The initiative is comprised of members from federal, state and local agencies, universities, tribal governments and non-profit organizations working toward rehabilitation of the trout through research, management, advocacy and advisory efforts.

Four representatives - Ron Kinnunen from Michigan Sea Grant, Casey Huckins from Michigan Tech University, Ed Baker from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Jill Leonard from NMU - spoke during the two-hour-plus presentation, which was attended by about 40 people.

"A coaster brook trout is essentially any brook trout over two pounds caught in Lake Superior or one of its tributaries," said Kinnunen, an agent with the Upper Peninsula district of the Michigan Sea Grant.

While they were once abundant in the area, stocks began to decline in the late 1800s due to over harvesting.

Other possible factors leading to the decline were habitat degradation from logging, the introduction of competing salmonids and the coming of other exotic species, such as lamprey, Kinnunen said.

The few remaining established populations are around Nipigon Bay in Ontario, Isle Royale and the Salmon Trout River in Marquette County.

Huckins, a biology professor at NMU, said that the number of specimens in those areas is in the hundreds, not the thousands.

"Currently, it's a situation of concern," he said.

Recovery efforts in the Nipigon area have stalled and the area is fished heavily, while the populations at Isle Royale and the Salmon Trout are small and may be declining, Huckins said.

Methods for re-establishment include habitat rehabilitation with a watershed approach, tighter regulations and continued stocking efforts, he said.

"Either way, it's going to be controversial," he said, citing possible new regulations as well as increased conflicts between fishermen.

In an effort to restore a naturally reproducing population at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore near Munising, more than 100,000 fingerling coaster brook trout have been stocked in the Mosquito, Sevenmile and Hurricane rivers since 1999.

Following 2005, that stocking will be temporarily suspended, said Leonard, a biology professor at NMU who is overseeing the work of graduate students studying coasters at Pictured Rocks.

After a few years of continued research, that process may be restarted if improvement isn't satisfactory, she said.

Baker, a research biologist with the DNR, warned that people shouldn't expect a healthy coaster brook trout population in the Lake Superior area overnight.

"Patience is going to be a big key here," he said.

In October, the DNR approved a fishing order for the 2005 season that limits coaster brook trout harvesting to one fish per angler and increases the minimum size to 20 inches. It will also be illegal to keep any brook trout caught within 4? miles of Isle Royale.

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