Lake Michigan's Chinook salmon are doing so well that Michigan and other states and tribes in the region have decided to sharply reduce stocking rates of the popular game fish.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Monday that it will cut its annual Chinook stocking in the lake by two-thirds, from 1.67 million to 560,000. The change begins in spring 2013.
The MDNR says because the fish are reproducing naturally in significant numbers in Michigan, the state "will shoulder the majority of the stocking reduction."
Michigan will reduce stocking by 1.13 million spring fingerlings, or 67 percent of the 1.69 million recently stocked by the state. Wisconsin will reduce by 440,000; Indiana will reduce by 25,000; and Illinois will reduce by 20,000.
The state agencies are following recommendations of the Lake Michigan Committee.
The Lake Michigan Committee is comprised of fisheries managers from Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and five Michigan tribes that are party to the 2000 Consent Decree.
In total stocking will be cut in half, going from 3.3 million to 1.7 million annually.
Naturalists say overstocking of predator fish threatens the population of other lake species and upsets the ecological balance. Half the Chinook in the lake now are the result of natural reproduction.
The MDNR says the decision to reduce stocking is part of an "adaptive management strategy." They say they will monitor indicators in the lake, such as Chinook salmon growth, and adjust to the conditions in Lake Michigan.
If conditions improve or get worse, stocking will be increased or decreased accordingly, and more quickly.
"This will give the DNR more flexibility to adaptively manage the lake," said Jay Wesley, Southern Lake Michigan Unit manager. "Traditionally, we have made changes in stocking and waited five years to evaluate it, and another two years to implement changes. Now we have the ability, through a defined and accepted process, to make changes as they are needed."