'06 Salmon stocking cuts looking prudent
Written by Ludington Daily News   
Monday, 14 January 2008 17:16

Cuts to fish-stocking programs are never popular, but at least one fisheries biologist is saying that the decision to cut Chinook salmon stocking in 2006 was a good one.  Indications are that salmon from Lake Michigan aren’t in the good shape they appear to be in when they come to a boat splashing and thrashing, said Randy Claramunt of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Charlevoix research station. The average size of young fish is down and the amount of water in their bodies is way up, an indication of nutritional deficiency.

Claramunt was in Ludington Saturday for the Michigan Sea Grant Regional Fisheries workshop at Ramada Inn.The best way to deal with salmon that aren’t getting enough to eat? More food or fewer salmon.

Claramunt said he expects fewer salmon over the next few years and that those fish will indeed be smaller than historical averages.

“20 (pounds) probably is the new 30,” Claramunt said. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing because when you get a lot of big, old fish it’s a lot of baitfish demand on the system.”

Claramunt said although today’s salmon appear in large part to be very healthy, about 45 percent of the fish returning to weirs have muscle tissue made up of more than 78 percent water.

“If your muscle tissue is 85 percent water, you’re in pretty poor condition,” Claramunt said.

But things aren’t as bad as the bad old days just yet, Claramunt said.

“After 1998 we’ve had a low incidence of disease,” Claramunt said. “If fish get in really poor condition, we should see an increase in disease and we haven’t yet.”

Claramunt said in recent years the estimates of the Chinook salmon’s primary food source — the alewife — have gotten significantly better.

in 2000, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources changed its surveying and sampling techniques and can now scan the lake from depths of 15 to 750 feet. The DNR’s boat, the Steelhead, and NOAA’s boat, Sturgeon, can do a combination of trawling, netting and hydroacoustic surveys to see exactly how dense schools of fish are.

The news on alewives is bad. Since a fairly strong alewife year class in 2005, baitfish stocks have plummeted.

Although there’s generally a bad year for alewife production following a good year for alewife production, there doesn’t seem to be another strong year class on the horizon, Claramunt said.

With lower alewife abundance comes lower salmon abundance, he said.

“That being said, it was the goal of the stocking cuts in 2006 to reduce the population because there were too many predators out there,” Claramunt said.

“I think it was the right thing at the right time,” he added. “I really think (Lake Michigan) will reach a balance sooner rather than if we had continued doing the wrong thing (by stocking too many fish).”

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