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DNR looks to increase salmon stocking in Lake Michigan

Man in a boat holding a large Chinook Salmon at sunset
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources proposes to increase Chinook salmon stocking by 54% in Lake Michigan.

A prized fish for sportsmen and ecologists may increase in Lake Michigan.

The Department of Natural Resources announced a plan over the weekend to boost the Chinook salmon population. It's to help combat rising Alewife populations — the salmon’s preferred prey.

Jay Wesley, the DNR's Lake Michigan basin coordinator, said the increase would be modest but would help stabilize the population.

“We have seen several years of good Chinook salmon growth and have a slight increase in the alewife biomass, or abundance of those fish,” Wesley said. “Although the alewife biomass is a fraction of what it was historically, we have a good 2021-year class and have seen up to six-year classes of alewives in our fisheries surveys — that means there are up to six different age groups in the current population of alewife."

He said the proposed 54% increase from 650,000 to 1 million spring Chinook fingerlings is modest compared to the estimated 4.5 million wild Chinook salmon in Lake Michigan, according to Wesley.

“It will allow us to increase numbers at sites like Charlevoix that contribute to the entire lake fishery and reinstate stocking sites like Ludington State Park and Fairport,” he said.

The Background

According to Midwest Out of Doors, the 5-8 inch alewife was an invasive species that entered the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1940s and constituted over 95%, by weight, of the lake’s biomass.

The Chinook were introduced to Lake Michigan in the 1960s, when heaps of alewives would wash up on shore, requiring bulldozers to remove.

Wesley said the Chinook is prized by anglers for its size and taste. It can also put up a good fight when you try to catch it.

“It's what draws people to fish in Lake Michigan,” he said. “We actually saw somewhat of a decrease of angler effort as the Chinook salmon population decreased. So, we know people are after it.”

A decision on the plan to add more Chinook would have to be made by early October, Wesley said, when eggs are harvested.

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