Chinook Salmon Thriving in Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan's chinook salmon are doing so well that Michigan has decided to sharply reduce its stocking of the popular game fish, the state announced Monday (9-25-12). The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said it will cut its annual chinook stocking in the lake by about two-thirds, from 1.67 million to 560,000, starting in 2013.

The decision implements last month's Lake Michigan Committee recommendation that states reduce stocking by about half, from 3.3 million to 1.7 million annually. Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indian tribes are represented on the committee. "This reduction is essential in helping to maintain the balance between predator and prey fish populations in Lake Michigan," Jim Dexter, chief of the DNR's Fisheries Division, said in a statement. "These reductions are necessary to maintain the lake's diverse fishery."

Naturalists say overstocking of predator fish threatens the population of other lake species and upsets the ecological balance. "This will give the DNR more flexibility to adaptively manage the lake. Traditionally, we have made changes in stocking and waited five years to evaluate it," said Michigan DNR fisheries official Jay Wesley. "Now we have the ability ... to make changes as they are needed."

Besides, the salmon now do a pretty good restocking job themselves, officials say.

"Streams in Michigan continue to produce significant numbers of naturally reproduced chinook salmon and lake-wide estimates show more than half of the lake's chinook population is of wild origin," the Department of Natural Resources said in its announcement.

The Lake Michigan Committee, part of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, made the recommendation Aug. 27.

One of the chinook's major food sources, a tiny fish called the alewife, is at or near historic lows.

"It's only right and good fishery management try to hone in on a stocking level consistent with what the ecosystem would support," committee spokesman Marc Gaden said at the time. "We will see an ecosystem that is healthier and more in balance."