Salmon running small but plentiful this year
Written by Manitowoc Herald-Times   
Thursday, 29 September 2005 09:13

Some people spend their money on luxury automobiles, clothing, or jewelry. Al Burkart puts all of his cash into fishing.? Burkart, a life-long fisherman from Manitowoc, said his hobby is bringing in solid returns this summer because of an abundant salmon fishing season on the lakeshore.

"It takes practice to be good at catching salmon," he said Saturday on the shoreline of the Manitowoc River. "I?ve caught 78 fish so far."

The annual salmon run, which occurs from the middle of September through the end of October, is a time when anglers seize an opportunity to catch salmon as the fish attempt to spawn up the river. The season attracts a plethora of out-of-towners like Brian Rehovsky, who traveled from Minneapolis after he heard that chinook salmon could be had on Lake Michigan waters.

"It?s just great to get out here and get a chance to catch some nice salmon," he said as fishers lined a pier in Two Rivers.

But the plentiful salmon run has a catch, as anglers like Burkart notice smaller fish than in previous years. Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Steve Hogler said the lakeshore is overpopulated with salmon because the number of alewife and other prey has plateaued. As a result, the average weight of salmon has dropped about 10 percent over the past couple of years, even as salmon harvests have increased 12 to 13 percent annually.

"We stock the lake with about 180,000 fish, of the 1.5 million fish stocked by the state each year," he said.

In the early 1970s, chinook and coho salmon ? and brown and rainbow trout ? were stocked into Lake Michigan to control the population of alewife, which grew unchecked for decades. Now fish biologists have considered reducing a new salmon stock by 25 percent.

"No one imagined that the salmon numbers would ever be this high," he said. "In the long-term it will have to balance out."

Hogler said a final decision to cut the stock should come soon, in order to determine how many eggs must be harvested for next year. Hogler was uncertain whether salmon could become an invasive species in the lakeshore.

"How that will affect Manitowoc County has yet to be determined," he said.

Roy Berres, former president of the Northeastern Wisconsin Great Lakes Sport Fisherman and currently a salmon rearing pond manager at Lincoln Park, said the salmon population explosion has reduced the number of number of fish he needs to raise each year.

"We?re going to have to cut back on the chinook," he said. "Everything we put into the waterways will come right back."

You won?t find local businesses complaining about the overflow of salmon around the lakeshore. Hotels, restaurants, and gas stations receive boosts in business when fishers flock to the shore.

"I get calls from Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, and even Georgia about the salmon," said Hogler. "All these people have to eat and stay somewhere. It does help the local economy."

Despite the fact that salmon were initially introduced into Lake Michigan for environmental purposes three decades ago, the annual salmon run has grown into a tradition.

"It has become a tradition for people to come here," Berres said. "People hear of the fishing and we become a boomtown."

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