DNR proposes reducing Lake Huron chinook salmon plants by 50%
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Saturday, 13 August 2005 18:43
State fisheries officials want to cut chinook salmon plants in Lake Huron by half beginning in 2006 because of continuing concerns about the forage base.

"This is more than just a flash in the pan," said Tammy Newcomb, the Lake Huron basin coordinator with the Department of Natural Resources. "We want to reduce the effective predators out there by half."

The proposal does not include plants of other species.

It's no secret that the lake's alewife population has declined in recent years and is at a low point. Total forage abundance in Lake Huron is less than half of what it averaged in the 1992-2004 period, Newcomb said.

But there are other warning signs as well. Chinook salmon are dramatically smaller, an indicator of a stressed population. Two-year-old salmon weigh two pounds less than their long-term average (since 1986) and 3-year-olds weigh three pounds less.

"The red flags are there," said Denny Grinold of the Michigan Charter Boat Association. "I guess that needs to be done."

Indicators are similar to what they were in 1998, Newcomb said, when fisheries managers cut plantings by 20 percent. Fisheries officials had sought larger cuts then, Newcomb said, but were unable to convince fishermen it was necessary.

This time, Newcomb said, the Lake Huron Citizens' Advisory Committee has signed off on the cuts.

"It's sort of like we've been here before," she said.

The DNR wants to eliminate the plants at the Au Gres River, St. Ignace and St. Marys River -- all of which are relatively small plants that produced minimal returns -- and cut total plants from 2.8 million year to 1.4 million next year at the remaining sites relatively proportionally.

The DNR asked Ontario to make similar cuts in its stocking program.

Officials are hard pressed to forecast how the cuts will impact the salmon harvest, which is down from recent levels, in part because of natural reproduction in Ontario rivers. But Newcomb said the cuts were not an attempt to de-emphasize the salmon fishery in favor of other species.

"Salmon are always going to be part of the fishery out there," she said.

The DNR has scheduled a public meeting for Aug. 20 at Saginaw Valley State University to discuss the proposed cuts. The meeting is set for 1 p.m. at the Rhea Miller Recital Hall, 7400 Bay Road.

DNR officials plan to present their recommendation to the Natural Resources Commission, which oversees DNR policy, in September in hopes of the panel making a decision at its October meeting.

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