This year’s fishing season is starting on the wheels of stocking trucks, new regulations and programs to attract more participants.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said its $9 million program is stocking 19 million fish – 370 tons – including eight trout and salmon species and four cool-water species, including walleye and muskellunge.
This year, DNR’s fish-stocking vehicles will travel nearly 138,000 miles to more than 700 spots around the state.
Christian LeSage, a biologist at DNR’s Fisheries Division, said that overall, locations and species don’t change much from year to year. However, some locations are not always stocked, and new places are added.
“Basically, stocking sites are changed if the site is difficult for our trucks or there is no longer public access, and environmental conditions have changed at the location – for example, the water temperature is determined to be too warm for trout,” he said.
LeSage said one of the biggest changes this year is that DNR is releasing fewer chinook salmon in Lake Michigan because the lake’s ecosystem is changing rapidly.
The state used to stock 3.3 million chinook annually in Lake Michigan but has cut the number by two-thirds since 2006. Under its plan, for example, the Manistee River is getting 68 percent fewer chinook than in 2006 and the Grand River is getting none.
The plan is to continue at the reduced levels through 2015.
LeSage said another big change is the increasing number of Atlantic salmon stocked in Lake Huron. About 100,000 will be released into the lake and two of its tributary streams this spring.
That will provide “more angler opportunities in Lake Huron since the chinook salmon fishery declined,” he said.
LeSage said stocking is used to restore, enhance and create fishing opportunities.
“This is important for many cities and towns as anglers often come from other locations to fish a specific lake, stream or river, and it can boost some local economies.”
LeSage said one of the more significant regulation changes is the reduced number of muskellunge a person can keep.
“Muskellunge possession used to be one per day per angler, but starting from this season, only one may be harvested per angler per year, and a new tag now is required,” he said.
A muskellunge must be at least 40 to 50 inches long, depending on where it’s caught.
Amy Trotter, the resource policy manager at Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said many muskies anglers usually catch and release, so the revised regulation won’t influence recreational opportunities a lot.
“DNR is working very hard to increase and sustain fish populations. The influences won’t be seen for a few years,” Trotter said.
Other changes as of April 1 affect northern pike fishing, bow and spear fishing and possession limit regulations.
LeSage said to get more people to enjoy fishing, a new program called the Family Friendly Fishing Waters will provide a website with information about bodies of water that are easy to access.