More coho salmon bound for Lake Michigan after stocking program revival

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The state of Michigan stocked coho salmon in the Grand River last month after taking last year off. Illustration: NOAA

By Tanya Baker

Michigan fishery managers released 325,000 coho salmon into the Grand River in downtown Lansing last month after taking two of the past four years off.

After skipping the Grand River in 2007 and 2009, the Platte River State Fish Hatchery sent four truckloads of the popular sport fish to stock at Lansing’s boat launch.

The hatchery, located 30 miles south of Traverse City, is the state’s main source of coho salmon for stocking. Fish raised there are usually planted annually in the Grand, Boardman, Manistee and St. Joseph rivers, among others. But a funding shortage meant some rivers weren’t stocked as often in the past four years.

That gap will allow biologists to study the movement and survival of the salmon, said Jay Wesley, manager of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s Southern Lake Michigan Unit.

“Annually, about 3,000-5,000 fish return to the Grand River. We’re thinking maybe we can begin to stock only 50,000 coho,” Wesley said.

Not all the salmon in the state’s waters come from stocking. Some reproduce naturally, but that’s more common in northern streams with cold water and gravel bottoms, said Jan Sapak, a biologist with the hatchery.

Lake trout, a species native to the Great Lakes, used to be the major game species. But overfishing and invasive sea lamprey severely depleted their numbers.

“Coho salmon are native to the Pacific Ocean,” Sapak said. “They were brought here in the late 1960s to reintroduce sports fishery in the Great Lakes after many of the game species were diminished.”

The coho stocked the Grand River were yearlings that will return as adults in the fall of 2011. The salmon average a mere six inches when they are released but should weigh up to eight pounds when they return.

The salmon will migrate to Lake Michigan around the Grand Haven area. Sticking together, the fish will move to southern parts of the lake, where anglers from Michigan, Illinois and Indiana can catch them.

“They have the whole summer of 2011 to continue feeding, and if the forage base is great, they’ll come back bigger,” Sapak said.

But not as many salmon return as officials would like, Wesley said.

“Around 1 percent return, mostly because they have to travel 160 miles down the Grand River,” he said. “Survival from the downstream migration could be low.”

The salmon are stocked in Lansing so that the area is imprinted on them, making it more likely that they will return the following year, he said.

With stock costs, employee salaries, food, electricity, testing and trucking, Sapak estimates that each fish costs roughly $1.

“Because we raise more than one type of fish, it’s hard to figure the cost for individual species,” she said.

Michigan State University student Kelley Smith has had some experience fishing for coho salmon. Originally from Ohio, Smith now studies fisheries and wildlife at MSU.

“I was in Muskegon a few years ago with a relative who wanted to get out of the state for a fishing trip,” Smith said. “We didn’t have a fly rod, so we had to use a spinning rod tackle, but it was still a great time.”

Fishing from the bank and wading out in the river was a different experience, Smith said.

“We both caught a fair amount of fish, averaging about four or five pounds,” Smith said. “I’d like to do it again if I get the chance, especially now that I’m living here in Michigan.”

16 thoughts on “More coho salmon bound for Lake Michigan after stocking program revival

  1. In 1993 the MI DNR discontinued stocking coho in Lake Superior. Since then we have seen our coho fishery decline until it now, it for all practical purposes, no longer exists. There is a small naturally reproducing population in the L.Superior watershed, but the fishery and catch is a small fraction of what it used to be prior to the cessation of stocking.

    I have fished for coho, both Spring and Fall, for 45 years here at Marquette and personally witnessed a large vibrant fishery decline to a remnant of it’s former self. In fact, when it became known within Fisheries Div. that the “head shed” was planning to discontinue stocking of coho, I predicted the eventual collapse of the fishery and made my opinion known to management. It was discounted with the statement that “natural reproduction would provide a fishery”. In fact, the DNR promised the local sportsman’s groups that if the fishery declined stocking would be restarted. Except for a small experimental stocking of 25,000 coho for 5 years at Munising, that promise has been forgotten.

    During the 1970s,1980s and early 1990s the Spring coho fishery began in February and intensified thru March, April and May. Dozens of anglers could be found fishing daily for coho thru the ice. During mild, ice-free weekends in April, and May it was common to see 30, 40, and even 50 small to large boats in the upper harbor at Marquette, and another 20 to 30 in the lower harbor. Anglers were found fishing from the breakwalls in both harbors and on the municipal coal dock in the lower harbor. The vast majority of these anglers were catching coho, and the occasional brown trout, steelhead, splake and chinook salmon. Now a crowd numbers 12 boats with a small scattering of anglers on the breakwalls, and a catch of one fish regardless of species is a prize. In the Fall during those years small and large boats were concentrated off the mouths of the Dead River, the Carp River and the Chocolay River. Good numbers of wading anglers were found at the mouths of these rivers and and shore anglers scattered all along the banks for miles. Anglers were found on the breakwalls in both harbors. Now a crowd is 3 anglers at any location, and the catch is negligable. Fishing effort at Marquette has declined by more than 75% and catch is in the single digits by percent. Now the only fishing of any consequence from Marquette is for lake trout, which requires large boats and specialized gear.

    The DNR is puzzled why sales of fishing licenses has been on the decline statewide and why fishing pressure on L.Superior has dropped by over 50%. I suggest that fishing license sales in the U.P. has declined precipitously. The only beneficiaries of this misguided policy are the golf courses, which, of course, do not benefit the MI DNRE, unless they are planning to require golf licenses. What goes around, comes around.

  2. With All Due Respect, the Salmon will be useless against the asian Carp, they cannot survive in the warmwater spawning/nursery areas, where the YOY Asian Carp will be. While the salmon and alewives are playing tag 20 miles out in the lake, the carp will enjoy predator free spawning. Once they grow too big, they will live 20+ years spawning 3 or more times a year, thus overrun all the lakes and rivers. We have 184 other assorted thriving invasives that the salmon are also useless against. Since they are now intentionally increasing the alewives (by reducing predators) we are increasing an invasive species, when we are supposed to be trying to get rid of them. we need predators to control the spawning areas, their only weak spot. Perch, Walleye, Pike, native and fit the bill. They also eat alewives.

  3. Do any of these CoHo or Chinook in any of the Great Lakes ever make the long trip to the Atlantic Ocean, like their ancestors did in the Pacific? Or are they “land-locked”, never to live a part of their life in salt water like the Pacific versions of these non-native fish?

  4. The DNR seems obsessed with introducing more non-native species into the Great Lakes at the expense of our native fish. Don’t they think that our native species are worthy enough for fisherman?

  5. With All Due Respect, the Salmon will be useless against the asian Carp, they cannot survive in the warmwater spawning/nursery areas, where the YOY Asian Carp will be. While the salmon and alewives are playing tag 20 miles out in the lake, the carp will enjoy predator free spawning. Once they grow too big, they will live 20+ years spawning 3 or more times a year, thus overrun all the lakes and rivers. We have 184 other assorted thriving invasives that the salmon are also useless against. Since they are now intentionally increasing the alewives (by reducing predators) we are increasing an invasive species, when we are supposed to be trying to get rid of them. we need predators to control the spawning areas, their only weak spot. Perch, Walleye, Pike, native and fit the bill. They also eat alewives.

  6. I remember living in Muskegon back in the mid 60’s when the beach was covered with dead stinking alewives.The DNR really started planting salmon in the rivers and lakes, it was the best and most successfull thing they ever did in my opinion.It wasn’t long, only a year or so and the beaches were clean again, the salmon were growing huge and the fishing business was going great guns.The salmon have done more good for Lake Michigan than than they could ever harm.If there is a hope to curb the Asian carp problem that’s destined to come( no thanks to Chicago area politicians) it will be the voracious appetite of those wonderful salmon.

  7. I think its great that fish are released farther inland. It gives MANY more fisherman the opportunity to catch salmon in their back yard. I live in the middle of the state (eaton rapids) and i appreciate not having to travel great distances, even tho we do, to catch the elusive fish. THANK YOU for everything u do for the species and the fisherman.

  8. The Salmon are not controlling the Alewives they are dependant on the Alewives. Thus we literally have to sacrafice all native fish and the Eco System in general to keep the Alewives. Perch alone eat most of the invasive species now in the lakes, including Zebra mussels, and would draw a much broader customer base, and make the lakes more resistant to all invasive species including the Asian carp!

  9. What this does’t explain is that there would be a much larger return if the stocking was done in Grand Haven closer to Lake Michigan, and the only reason they do it in Lansing is for political reasons. Most of them get eaten before they ever get to Lake Michigan. What a waste.

  10. Vince, To eat alewive the chinook eat far more than coho living longer and growing larger, plus they are very cheap to raise compared to the coho. Chinook are in the hatchery from October to May where coho require another full year at very high expense. Coho are plain bad economics. That money could be used to raise other native predators to eat excess forage as a better win-win.

  11. Kudos to Michigan for realizing how important Pacific Salmon are to the economy, quality of life, and the eco-system. Once the ultimate intruder, the Alewife, was let in by building the Seaway, the Pacific Salmon were required to bring the billions of Alewives into balance. This allows “native” species to reproduce, as Alewives devour the hatch of many species. Thank God for Kings(Chinooks) and Cohos, and God Bless the fishery managers who had the foresight and guts to introduce them to the GREAT Great Lakes!

  12. Michigan fishery managers released 325,000 coho salmon into the Grand River……..
    With stock costs, employee salaries, food, electricity, testing and trucking, Sapak estimates that each fish costs roughly $1.
    and………
    Wesley said. “Around 1 percent return, mostly because they have to travel 160 miles down the Grand River,” he said. “Survival from the downstream migration could be low.”

    Therefore the question remains, with the DNR fishery division trying to operate with a 1995 budget, why are they wasting almost $300K on Grand River coho when that much money could completely fund several other fishery prgrams and/or more staff positions?

  13. In 1993 the MI DNR discontinued stocking coho in Lake Superior. Since then we have seen our coho fishery decline until it now, it for all practical purposes, no longer exists. There is a small naturally reproducing population in the L.Superior watershed, but the fishery and catch is a small fraction of what it used to be prior to the cessation of stocking.

    I have fished for coho, both Spring and Fall, for 45 years here at Marquette and personally witnessed a large vibrant fishery decline to a remnant of it’s former self. In fact, when it became known within Fisheries Div. that the “head shed” was planning to discontinue stocking of coho, I predicted the eventual collapse of the fishery and made my opinion known to management. It was discounted with the statement that “natural reproduction would provide a fishery”. In fact, the DNR promised the local sportsman’s groups that if the fishery declined stocking would be restarted. Except for a small experimental stocking of 25,000 coho for 5 years at Munising, that promise has been forgotten.

    During the 1970s,1980s and early 1990s the Spring coho fishery began in February and intensified thru March, April and May. Dozens of anglers could be found fishing daily for coho thru the ice. During mild, ice-free weekends in April, and May it was common to see 30, 40, and even 50 small to large boats in the upper harbor at Marquette, and another 20 to 30 in the lower harbor. Anglers were found fishing from the breakwalls in both harbors and on the municipal coal dock in the lower harbor. The vast majority of these anglers were catching coho, and the occasional brown trout, steelhead, splake and chinook salmon. Now a crowd numbers 12 boats with a small scattering of anglers on the breakwalls, and a catch of one fish regardless of species is a prize. In the Fall during those years small and large boats were concentrated off the mouths of the Dead River, the Carp River and the Chocolay River. Good numbers of wading anglers were found at the mouths of these rivers and and shore anglers scattered all along the banks for miles. Anglers were found on the breakwalls in both harbors. Now a crowd is 3 anglers at any location, and the catch is negligable. Fishing effort at Marquette has declined by more than 75% and catch is in the single digits by percent. Now the only fishing of any consequence from Marquette is for lake trout, which requires large boats and specialized gear.

    The DNR is puzzled why sales of fishing licenses has been on the decline statewide and why fishing pressure on L.Superior has dropped by over 50%. I suggest that fishing license sales in the U.P. has declined precipitously. The only beneficiaries of this misguided policy are the golf courses, which, of course, do not benefit the MI DNRE, unless they are planning to require golf licenses. What goes around, comes around.

  14. With all the problems Michigan has with exotics the fact that th State releases an exotic species is really sending the wrong message.
    What are they saying? Some exotics are ok while others are not? Why don’t they start being good stewards and just release native fish?

  15. The return rate is very low but the potential reasons and barriers were not discussed. As I understand it, there are 5 dams on the Grand River between Grand Haven & Lansing -surely not all of them are equipped with the ‘fish ladder’, this then would prevent the upstream journey for many. Is this correct?
    thanks

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