Contact(s): Brad Eggold, Great Lakes district fisheries supervisor, 414-382-7921, Bradley.Eggold@wisconsin.gov; Nick Legler, DNR fisheries biologist, 920-746-5112, Nicholas.Legler@Wisconsin.gov; Jennifer Sereno, DNR communications, 608-770-8084, Jennifer.Sereno@wisconsin.gov
MILWAUKEE -With reports of great salmon and trout fishing this summer in Wisconsin ports up and down Lake Michigan, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is encouraging anglers to aid critical fisheries research by donating the heads of fish they harvest.
The heads of stocked chinook salmon and lake trout are being sought as part of an ongoing and collaborative effort lake-wide to document fish behavior and provide information that will aid in management of the fishery. Mid-summer is an important time for data collection because salmon from throughout Lake Michigan and parts of Lake Huron travel to Wisconsin's shores to take advantage of the alewives gathered here.
"We are seeing large numbers of chinook salmon coming into the region's ports as well as steelhead, coho, brown trout and lake trout. Anglers are reporting that this is shaping up to be one of the best years of fishing in at least the last three years," said Brad Eggold, DNR Great Lakes district fisheries supervisor. "Given other data that show changes in the populations of prey fish, it is more important than ever for us to gather as much information as possible and we need anglers' help to learn what's going on in the lake. The tags in the snouts of the stocked chinook salmon and lake trout tell us when and where the fish were stocked plus other valuable information."
Only harvested fish missing the small back top fin, known as the adipose fin, are being sought, because the missing fin is a sign that the fish likely received a tag in its snout. For several years now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state natural resource agencies have been marking hatchery-raised chinook and lake trout by safely implanting a tiny steel tag etched with a number that tells where and when the fish was hatched and stocked.
The effort is funded through a grant to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (New Franken, WI) from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Several ages and sizes of tagged chinook salmon are now available for anglers to catch, making this an important time to collect chinook salmon and lake trout heads to look for the steel tags.
DNR has partnered with local businesses in most major ports along the lakeshore to provide convenient locations for anglers to drop off fish heads. The businesses have been given forms for anglers to fill out and bags to use for freezing the heads. Anglers should include the following information with each head - date and location of capture, along with the fish species, length, weight and gender.
Nick Legler, DNR Lake Michigan fisheries biologist, said the research effort will help biologists evaluate how many wild and stocked fish are in Lake Michigan and the distances they travel to feed. The data also will be used to measure fish growth, survival and age at capture as well as analyze hatchery and stocking practices.
Initial findings from the research [PDF] (starting on page 65) show that during the summer months, Wisconsin anglers benefit from chinook stocked in other states as those fish migrate here to feed. In addition, Wisconsin-stocked salmon survive at above average rates and contribute to the state's fall fishery when they return to the water where they were first stocked to spawn. Currently, wild chinook now account for about 70 percent of the lake-wide population. The vast majority of these wild fish are from spawning in Michigan (state) and Ontario (Lake Huron) streams with a more minor component coming from Wisconsin streams.
In addition to learning more about chinook, comments from recreational anglers and charter captains who attended recent Lake Michigan stakeholder meetings indicated strong interest in developing more robust information about lake trout abundance and impact on prey species. Eggold said the coded wire tag research will further efforts by DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to understand lake trout populations and their impact on Lake Michigan prey fish.
DNR appreciates the efforts of the anglers who donated fish heads last year and the businesses that serve as collection points. Thanks to the contributions from anglers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service processed more than 15,500 fish snouts from throughout the region during 2015. Anglers are also encouraged to allow DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service technicians working at tournaments and fish cleaning stations to process their catches to collect this valuable information.