salmon

The Environment Report
12:00 pm
Tue September 17, 2013

Salmon's favorite food dwindling in Lake Michigan

Alewives washed up on shore.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

An interview with Peter Payette.

It looks like food for salmon will continue to be scarce in Lake Michigan. Researchers say it appears not many alewives were born in the lake this year - and salmon eat almost nothing else.

Neither salmon nor alewives are native to the Great Lakes, but it's bad news for people trying to keep the billion-dollar sport fishery alive in Lake Michigan.

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio and he's been covering this story. He explains that every year researchers go out on the lakes to see what’s happening.

"One of the important surveys is of prey fish, the little feeder fish that big fish like salmon like to eat, and in Lake Michigan this year they found very few newborn alewives. There are alewives in the lake, ones that were born in years past. But the young of the year, the new class of alewives; they found very few," he says.

Read more
Environment & Science
3:48 pm
Mon September 24, 2012

States to cut way back on Lake Michigan Chinook stocking

A male Chinook salmon in spawning phase.
USGS

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."

The Environment Report
9:45 am
Tue September 18, 2012

Drought conditions affecting salmon

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

With this year’s drought, fish in northern Michigan are fighting low water levels and hot temperatures as they head upstream to spawn.  The drought is causing major problems for one river, in particular.

The state Department of Natural Resources is about to take very rare action and ban fishing near the mouth of the Betsie River, near Frankfort.

Fisheries biologist Mark Tonello says if people stay away from the area, there is enough room for the fish to swim up river.

Read more
Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue July 10, 2012

Retooling brake pads for salmon

Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Washington and California recently adopted laws that ban all but traces of copper in automotive brake pads by the year 2021. The two states say the metal gets into watersheds and hurts endangered salmon. The decision could change the way brakes are made around the world.

Copper is a great material for brakes. It's durable, and it absorbs heat and noise. But it comes with an environmental price.

"Each time a driver uses their brakes, a small amount of the material gets worn off, and when it rains, that can be washed into streams and rivers," said Ian Wesley, who's with the Washington State Department of Ecology.

About a third of the copper in some watersheds in California and Washington State comes from brakes. And copper is not good for salmon, because it wreaks havoc with their ability to smell.

Salmon release a pheromone when they perceive a threat. Other salmon react to the scent by dropping to the bottom of the water and staying there, very still.

"When they do that, it helps them avoid the predators, but if there's even very low levels of copper in the water, they can't smell this pheromone, and they continue to swim around kind of oblivious to the danger that's nearby," said Wesley.

Read more
Environment & Science
10:47 am
Thu May 24, 2012

Sport fishing groups want state to stop stocking salmon in Lake Michigan

The Desperado heads out at sunrise to go after Pacific salmon in Lake Michigan.
Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

How many salmon can Lake Michigan support?

That’s the critical question state fishery biologists have to answer this year.

Everyone involved in the salmon fishery is worried about its future... and now some sport fishing groups say drastic action might be required. They want the state to stop putting more fish into the lake.

There’s not much food for salmon in Lake Michigan these days because invasive species are changing the food web.

But there are a lot of salmon, because more and more are being born in the wild as opposed to in fish hatcheries. That combination of too many fish and not enough food wiped out the salmon in Lake Huron almost a decade ago and they never returned.

That’s why the state has proposed reducing the number of salmon stocked in Lake Michigan by 30 to 50%.

But last month the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisher’s Association urged lake managers to consider ending all stocking for two years.

Now, a charter boat association in Muskegon has endorsed that idea too.

Paul Jensen is part of that group.

"We need to make a radical move to change the pattern and what we don’t want to do is duplicate what happened on Lake Huron."

But ending stocking might not sit well with some anglers. For decades, more fish stocking meant more fish being caught.

But researchers say the situation is bleak.

The salmon fishing is great so far this spring. But that’s a problem because it means there’s still a lot of fish in a lake without much food.

Environment
9:00 am
Tue March 27, 2012

A salmon balancing act for Lake Michigan fishery managers

The Desperado heads out at sunrise to go after Pacific salmon in Lake Michigan.
Photo by Lester Graham/Michigan Radio

by Peter Payette for The Environment Report

The people who manage salmon in Lake Michigan will have to decide soon how many fish to put into the lake.  The salmon fishery is a manmade industry in the Great Lakes.  It’s produced by planting millions and millions of fish in the lakes.  But keeping the salmon population in balance with the food supply is a challenge these days.  And some scientists are raising new questions about the salmon’s demise in Lake Huron and whether that can be stopped in Lake Michigan.  

Salmon were brought in from the Pacific Ocean.

Read more
Environment
11:56 am
Thu September 8, 2011

Platte Lake cleaner after years of salmon hatchery pollution

Platte Lake
Photo by Chris Harnish, courtesy of Interlochen Public Radio

Decades ago, residents sued to stop a fish hatchery in northern Michigan from polluting a lake. More than thirty years later, the legal battles have ended and the pollution has been greatly reduced.

Northern Michigan is home to some of the clearest blue lakes in the world, like Torch, Glen and Crystal.

Once upon a time Wilfred Sweicki says Platte Lake in Benzie County was in that league.

“It was extremely clear, never quite as clear as Crystal or Glen but nearly so.”

Unfortunately for Sweicki and other homeowners on Platte, fishery biologists did something nearby that changed the Great Lakes dramatically.

They planted Pacific salmon in the Platte River.

That was in the late sixties and soon a billion dollar fishery was born.

A hatchery was built and animal waste from millions of fish began pouring into Platte Lake. The waste contained the nutrient phosphorus.

Phosphorous caused algae to bloom, clouding the water and killing a variety of aquatic animals and plants.

It even caused chemical changes in the sediment of the lake bottom that produced milky clouds of a clay-like substance that collects on stones and docks.

Read more
Investigative
6:00 am
Thu August 25, 2011

Collapse of salmon in Lake Huron (Part 3)

C. J. Baker operates a salmon fishing charter boat for Puddle Jumpers Charters. He moved his boat from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan after the salmon fishing collapsed in Lake Huron.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Part 3 of 3 part series -

Salmon fishing has meant a lot of tourism dollars for cities along the coasts.  But, changes in Lake Huron have caused a collapse of salmon.  But, what if other Great Lakes lose their salmon?

Fishing for salmon on some parts of Lake Huron is still a big deal.

INTERNET AUDIO ADVERTISEMENT

“This July for the first annual Mackinaw City Salmon Festival..."

Read more
Investigative
7:17 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Big returns for subsidized fish (Part 2)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery in Brimley, MI on Lake Superior. The trailers are 'mass marking trailers,' used to tag every hatchery fish introduced into the Great Lakes.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

Part 2 of a 3 part series -

Fishing in the Great Lakes would not be what it is today without stocking Pacific salmon in the lakes.  But it costs a lot of money.  Michigan fisheries managers say it’s worth every dime.  In the second report of the series 'The Collapse of the Salmon Economy," we look at the economic benefits of subsidizing salmon fishing in the Great Lakes.

In the 1960s, the state of Michigan first put salmon into the Great Lakes.  It was a gamble to create world-class recreational fishing. 

Michigan spends about $8-million a year stocking salmon and other types of fish.  But the Department of Natural Resources doesn’t really know how many fish we’re catching for those millions of dollars.

Gary Whelan is in charge of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fish hatcheries. 

“I wouldn’t say we have no idea.  I think we have a ballpark.  We don’t have a great estimate.  We would like to have a lot better estimates than we have now.  I would absolutely agree with that.”

A Michigan Watch analysis found the cost for each fish caught in Michigan waters ranges from a couple of dollars to $150 per fish caught, depending on species and depending on year.  We use catch estimates used by some other Great Lakes states.

The Michigan DNR’s Gary Whelan questions those estimates and our calculations.

And… he says besides, we’re looking at it all wrong.  It’s not about the cost per hatchery-raised fish caught; it’s about what those salmon mean to Michigan’s economy. 

“You have lots of people, for example, who are catch-and-release fishermen who will never take fish home.  But, they’re spending a lot of money to go fishing for this fish or the opportunity to fish for them.”

And stocking Pacific salmon does attract anglers from all over.

Read more
Investigative
7:51 am
Tue August 23, 2011

Collapse of the salmon economy (Part 1)

Headed out to go salmon fishing on Lake Michigan near Grand Haven.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

To understand why salmon are so important to the Great Lakes and the Michigan economy, you first have to understand some history.

It used to be the lake trout was the fish to catch.  It was big.  It was tasty.  But, by the late 1950s, that fish and others had been severely over-fished.  And, an eel-like, blood-sucking parasite called the sea lamprey further reduced lake trout numbers.

Those weren’t even the worst problems for lake trout.  A fish called the alewife invaded the Great Lakes through manmade canals.  Lake trout starting feeding on alewives.  But  alewives caused a thiamine deficiency in lake trout.  A lack of vitamin B-1.

Mark Gaden is with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission

“The thiamine deficiency that the alewives cause is one of the top reasons why natural reproduction has been very slow to occur over the decades in the Great Lakes of these species.”

Catching a lake trout became rare.

Read more
Environment
11:29 am
Tue June 14, 2011

Lake trout on life support in Lake Michigan

Lake trout were once the big game fish in all of the Great Lakes. Some people still love catching and eating them.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant

For twenty years now the federal government has been trying to restore wild lake trout in Lake Michigan. Lake trout are native to the Great Lakes and were once the big game fish in all the lakes. The species is doing well in Lakes Superior and Huron these days. But recovery efforts in Lake Michigan have been almost a total failure.

Lake trout don’t have a big fan club. Anglers would prefer to land a salmon. And retail markets for lake trout are weak.

Read more
Environment
12:15 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Salmon fishery on the rocks

The Chinook salmon was initially introduced to the Great Lakes in the 1870s. Michigan, New York and Wisconsin reintroduced the Chinook salmon to the Great Lakes in 1966.
Photo courtesy of USFWS

There’s a decision looming for Lake Huron that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. The state must decide whether it should keep putting chinook salmon in the lake. The fish has been the driving force behind sport fishing in the Great Lakes. But the salmon’s future in the Upper Lakes is now questionable.

It’s hard to overstate how drastically salmon transformed the Great Lakes after they were introduced more than 40 years ago.

Ed Retherford is a charter boat captain on Lake Huron. He says in the old days on a weekend in Rockport he’d see cars with boat trailers backed up for a mile or two waiting to launch. But that’s all gone now.

“You’d be lucky, except maybe for the brown trout festival, you’d be lucky to see twenty boats there on a weekend. It just decimated that area. You can imagine the economics involved.”

Chinook or king salmon practically disappeared from Lake Huron about seven years ago. Most of the charter boats are gone now because the kinds of fish that remain are just not as exciting to catch as salmon.

State officials figure little towns like Rockport lose upwards of a million dollars in tourism business every year without the fishery.

Read more