Decision in: Lake Michigan chinook cut will be 25 percent
Written by Booth Newspapers   
Sunday, 02 October 2005 10:26
Fisheries managers from the four Lake Michigan states have agreed to cut chinook salmon stocking in the big lake by 25 percent beginning in spring.

The decision was reached at an interstate conference last Saturday at Kenosha, Wis.

Jim Dexter, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan basin coordinator, said there was "pretty strong agreement" among the anglers at the conference that something has to be done.

A few anglers did not support the cuts, Dexter said, preferring instead to raise the daily limit on chinooks, which is five in Indiana, Wisconsin and Illinois, and three in Michigan. But, Dexter said computer modeling shows that increasing the limit won't balance the predator-prey equation in the lake.

Currently, the states stock 4.3 million chinook fingerlings in Lake Michigan each spring. Michigan stocks 2.2 million of those.

There was no agreement on how to get to the 25 percent overall reduction.

"We've drafted guidelines saying we don't want to cut any ports," Dexter said. "The anglers were concerned about losing those late summer/early fall fisheries if we eliminated the stocking at some ports."

In addition, there is a general agreement to begin negotiating the cuts across the board, Dexter said, but it's likely that Michigan will wind up cutting its plants by more than 25 percent.

"Indiana's only stocking 250,000 fish," he said. "Illinois is stocking 300,000 fish. Michigan and Wisconsin have the capacity to absorb a few more cuts than the other states."

The cuts were deemed necessary because of several warning signs in the fishery.

"The weight at age 3 of the fish is declining in contests, it's declining at the weirs and it's declining in the recreational catch," Dexter said. "Wisconsin has data from all its contests from the last 30 years and this year the weight of a standard length fish (30 inches) is the lowest it's ever been."

The catch rate -- fish per 100 angling hours -- was the best its ever been last year and "this year it's going to be even better," Dexter said. "When you hear from more than one person at more than one port in more than one state that they're heading back in with their limits prior to daylight, that's an unsustainable situation."

But the biggest worry is the alewife population, Dexter said.

"We've been on a downward trend for a number of years now and there's no indication it's getting any better."

The plan is to maintain the new stocking level for a while, Dexter said.

"If things were to change for the better in two or three years, we might decide to increase stocking," he said. "But if things continue to slide, we may be back in a couple of years asking for more cuts.

"We're optimistic that we're being pro-active enough at this point that we'll create that balance that we desire between predator and prey. If we make this cut and forage rebounds significantly, we can ramp production back up. We have the capacity to increase those stockings very quickly."

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