A series of Michigan Sea Grant workshops show growing Lake Huron fish populations and improving attitudes about the Great Lake’s fishery.
The April workshops were held in Michigan at Ubly, Oscoda and Cedarville for anglers, boaters and interested community members.
Researchers from the Sea Grant, Michigan State University, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Great Lakes Science Center gave presentations on invasive species research and fishery management.
“Our spring workshops were pretty exciting, given the drastic ecological changes caused by invasive species in Lake Huron,” said Brandon Schroeder, the northeast district educator for the Michigan Sea Grant.
Many of those changes are highlighted in this Sea Grant report, which provides a timeline of the ecosystem from the 1900s to the present day.
The report details the invasions of sea lamprey, alewife and zebra and quagga mussels, as well as the decline of salmon and rebounding native populations.
Better understanding of invasive species’ influence on Lake Huron’s food web has opened the door for new research and management strategies, Schroeder wrote in a release.
A study of predator diets in Lake Huron and reduced salmon stocking were among the topics discussed.
A Great Lakes Science Center study shows that predator fish are responding to food shortages by switching to non-traditional prey such as invasive round gobies.
Declining prey fish populations also prompted the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to reduce Chinook salmon stocking in Lake Huron last year.
The agency stocked 693,000 spring Chinook fingerlings in 2012, compared to almost 1.5 million in 2011.
Some Chinook salmon plants along southern Lake Huron have been suspended, Todd Grischke, the DNR’s Lake Huron Basin coordinator, wrote in a report.
“Poor returns of stocked fish and a collapse of prey fish populations throughout Lake Huron were key factors,” Grischke said. “We’ll continue to monitor biological data for the next six years and will make interim stocking adjustments as necessary.” ”
“Recreational harvest of Chinook salmon has virtually vanished in the southern two-thirds of Lake Huron,” said DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter.
The remaining Chinook salmon, many of which are naturally reproduced, are healthier, Schroeder said.
A survey taken during the workshops also indicates a more positive attitude regarding the Lake Huron fishery as a whole.
When asked about the overall attitude toward the future of the Lake Huron fishery, 43 percent of the responses indicated that “Lake Huron is a great fishery, full of opportunities.”
Participant attitudes have improved from 2011, when 55 percent indicated that they “had hope but Lake Huron needs some help” and 20 percent said that the “Lake Huron fishery is in serious trouble.”
Though managing invasive species and prey and predator populations continue to be a challenge, Schroeder said the survey indicates hope.
“Despite some negativity, it seems like there’s still a lot of positive views of the fishery after many years of fairly poor attitudes towards Lake Huron,” he said.
Schroeder pointed out that the survey, while encouraging, was not a random sample but a program evaluation, with participants giving feedback based on the presentations they heard.
“It isn’t data that can be generalized to a wider public, but the workshop was attended by committed anglers who fish very often,” Schroeder said.