Soak up knowledge of the lakes
Written by Detroit News   
Friday, 25 March 2005 15:09
If you're interested in salmon in lakes Michigan and Huron, you can learn a lot at some conferences and informational meetings hosted next month by the Michigan Sea Grant programs and the Department of Natural Resources.

A conference on chinook salmon and prey fish in Lake Michigan will be held April 9 in Benton Harbor. Fisheries researchers from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, the Chippewa-Ottawa Treaty Fishery Management Authority and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission will discuss what has happened to the salmon and prey fish populations since the states cut back on salmon stocking in 1999.

That conference will start at 8:30 a.m. at the Blue Lecture Hall at Lake Michigan College on Napier Avenue. The $5 registration fee includes a box lunch. If you haven't attended one of these events, I would highly recommend it. It won't necessarily make you a better angler, but it will give you a far better understanding of the biological dynamic of one of the world's biggest lakes.

Five workshops will be held in Lake Huron communities throughout April, and they will let anglers know what the scientists have found out about declining numbers of salmon and prey fish in that lake.

Last summer, about 20 percent of the salmon tagged in Lake Huron and later hooked by anglers were caught in Lake Michigan. Most of those Lake Huron salmon swam only a few miles trough the Straits of Mackinac into Lake Michigan, but a few wound up more than 100 miles south of the Straits.

Biologists think Lake Huron's prey fish decline is linked to increasing competition between zebra mussels, not just with juvenile alewives and smelt but with the even smaller critters that are eaten by juvenile alewives and smelt.

In addition, Lake Huron might be getting considerably more natural reproduction of salmon along the Canadian shorelines than biologists thought. The combination of large numbers of predators, shrinking food base and increased stress from other factors, like cold winters, might be more than the alewives can handle and result in poor survival of the young-of-the-year.

The Lake Huron meetings are 7:30 p.m. April 13 at McMorran Place Arena in Port Huron; 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. April 16 at the Franklin Inn in Bad Axe; 7-9 p.m. April 20 at Alpena Community College in Alpena; 7-9 p.m. April 21 at the Cheboygan Sportsman's Club in Cheboygan, and 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. April 30 at the Oscoda Yacht Club in Oscoda.

I've been to a number of these conferences and have found them extremely informative, so if you can make one of them it would be wise to put it on your calendar. Most of the biologists who present programs are as concerned and passionate about the lakes as the anglers, and the information they present often opens the eyes of sport fishermen to things they hadn't considered before.

For far too long we have treated the Great Lakes like oversized fish ponds or aquariums. Our fisheries science mostly consisted of throwing new species into the water and waiting to see what happened, without giving much thought to what this might do to existing species or the overall ecosystem.

We also ignored, probably until it is too late, the inadvertent arrival of exotics like sea lampreys, zebra mussels and spiny water fleas. Now that we have awakened to the threat, we find ourselves unable to do much about them, either because we lack the technology or the political will in the face of entrenched interests.

The solution is an informed and interested constituency, and the Seas Grant and DNR Great Lakes meetings are a good place for anglers to baptize themselves in that group.

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