Coho cuts not expected to hurt local fishing
Written by Grand Rapids Press   
Friday, 08 July 2005 12:32
A state Department of Natural Resources plan to cut coho salmon stocking by 60 percent on Lake Michigan in 2007 and 2008 may be generating more questions than answers among West Michigan anglers.

The agency announced its intent last month to reduce coho stocking on Lake Michigan by 1 million fish each year in 2007 and 2008. The reduction is one of several being initiated by the agency to meet an $8.1 million budget shortfall.

State fish researchers say anglers may notice a drop, but do not expect it to be severe. Lake Michigan currently has four coho year classes swimming in it. The Platte River Hatchery also is loaded with coho that will be released later this year and in 2006.

"The coho won't disappear down here," said Dave Clap, the head of the DNR's Great Lakes Fisheries Research Station in Charlevoix. "There will only be a couple of years where fish go only in the Platte River, but there will still be a southern Michigan fishery."

Anglers to the south say they expect that the cutbacks will make a dent in the early spring fishery.

"I think it will have an impact on the guys that fish the piers," said Captain Ken Neidlinger, who operates Silver King Charters out of St. Joseph.

"In early March, if you can get out on piers or the lake and troll close to shore, coho are 99 percent of the fishery. Come April, we're mostly into steelhead and king salmon."

Farther north, off the Grand River, the coho would barely be missed.

"They're cutting the fish that gives us the least bang for the buck," said Chip Klein of Grand Rapids, who operates Hit Man Charters in Grand Haven. "It's not going to be a good thing, but they have to do it.

"We haven't caught a half-dozen cohos this year. It's not going to affect us much. It's going to have more impact on the guys that race to the bottom of the lake."

State officials say the coho salmon program was selected because coho are the most expensive salmon to raise. They are raised in the state's Platte River hatchery for a year and released as a larger, yearling fish.

Cohos are the little brother of the larger and more highly prized Chinook salmon that swim the lake. State officials say coho are a bonus fish that diversifies the fishery. They are rarely a mainstay in a fishery dominated by Chinook salmon and steelhead.

"We see from our creel survey the coho is primarily an early spring fishery along the piers in the southern part of the lake," said Kregg Smith, a fish biologist for the DNR's Plainwell office. "But they are not the primary species being caught. Even at its peak there are brown trout and Chinook and steelhead out there."

Typically 1.7 million coho are released annually to Lake Michigan waters. During the two scaled-back years, only 600,000 will be released.

The two-year cut is expected to shave $4 million from the agency budget. Those that are released will go into the Platte River. The St. Joseph, Grand and Manistee rivers, which have gotten the lion's share of the fish in past years, will get none.

The fish released on the Platte are expected to enter Lake Michigan where they will migrate around the lake and be available to anglers. State officials say they plan to collect eggs as usual and resume normal stocking in 2009.

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