Salmon might be multiplying too quickly
Written by Detroit Free Press   
Monday, 11 April 2005 13:31
Lake Michigan anglers are enjoying the best chinook salmon fishing in years, but the population is close to overwhelming the fish it feeds on, making stocking cuts a possibility next year, biologists and fisheries experts said Saturday.

"We've just gone through the three best years of chinook fishing that I've ever experienced," said Paul Peeters, fisheries biologist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

"I may sound a little bit like Chicken Little, but we've got some warning signs that we need to watch very closely," he said.

Chinook salmon play the key predator role in the lake's ecosystem and the alewife is the most important forage fish.

Last year Wisconsin anglers landed 360,991 chinook, the most of any year since 1987, and the catch from 2002 to 2004 was 950,000, a three-year record.

But the alewife population in Lake Michigan has dropped 75 percent in the last three years, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

"That's not a good combination," said Randy Claramunt, fisheries biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "The last time the number of chinook got out of balance with the number of alewife we had a crash."

Biologists monitor top predators in the lake. Most are well controlled through stocking, but a wild card has entered the system -- natural reproduction.

About 4.4 million chinook are stocked lakewide, and perhaps another 5 million are naturally reproduced in Michigan streams, Claramunt said.

To help a looming imbalance in 1998, anglers and fisheries managers agreed to a 20 percent reduction in chinook stocking. The cut is credited with helping create the excellent fishing of recent years.

The 2005 stocking schedule will not change, said Jim Dexter, a manager with the Michigan DNR. Recommendations of future reductions won't likely come until this fall.

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