The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently posted a document that provides an update on the status of the Lake Michigan Fishery.
The main topic of the document is declining salmon populations in the lake and how the DNR is handling it.
“We believe the questions answered in this document will paint a clearer picture about what sportfish populations in Lake Michigan really look like and what that means for anglers who pursue them,” said DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter. “Additional work that we’re doing—including both angler and fish assessments and fish modeling—will continue to add to this picture and give us better ideas about future steps to ensure Lake Michigan continues to maintain its world-class fishing reputation.”
The full document can be found here, but following are three important takeaways from the update.
1. The salmon population in Lake Michigan will most likely remain low for some time.
This is because alewives, the primary prey of salmon, have been declining since the mid-1990s, according to the DNR, due to the increased number of the invasive species of zebra and quagga mussels that out-compete the alewives for nutrients.
Also, in order to prevent the fishery from crashing, the DNR has reduced stocking levels and increased possession limits.
2. Anglers will have a more diverse range of fish to catch in Lake Michigan.
The DNR has been stocking more brown trout, coho salmon, steelhead, and lake trout in the fishery. Chinook salmon primarily feed on alewives, while the other fish feed on the round goby. Gobies can feed on mussels and spawn several times in a season, so the DNR says that brown and lake trout and steelhead catch rates should increase. The DNR also says that nearshore catches of bass, walleye, and pike will increase.
3. Lake Michigan won’t be another Lake Huron.
The salmon population crashed in Lake Huron in the mid-2000s. While DNR biologists say they can’t influence the alewife population, they are trying new approaches to assess the salmon and alewife balance, and to maintain said balance to prevent the chinook salmon population from crashing.