Contact(s): Todd Kalish, DNR fisheries bureau deputy director, 608-266-5285, Todd.Kalish@Wisconsin.gov; Brad Eggold, DNR southern Lake Michigan Fisheries supervisor, 414-382-7921, Bradley.Eggold@wisconsin.gov; Jennifer Sereno, DNR communications, 608-770-8084, Jennifer.Sereno@wisconsin.gov
MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will convene three public meetings in late June to discuss management strategies and opportunities for Lake Michigan in light of continued challenges facing salmon populations and the alewives they feed on.
The meetings will focus on a variety of potential management actions to ensure continued diverse opportunities for sport anglers. Topics for discussion will include finding the right species mix, use of net pens, hatchery production, habitat restoration and the potential to increase focus on species with the greatest chances of thriving given the record low levels of open water forage fish such as alewives and rainbow smelt.
The initiative represents part of an ongoing effort by DNR to ensure anglers' voices are heard as ecological changes continue to alter Lake Michigan's food web. The meetings follow announcement of a proposal by the Lake Michigan Committee, a multistate organization charged with managing the Lake Michigan fishery, to reduce lake-wide stocking of chinook salmon by 61.5 percent from current levels, beginning in 2017.
This proposed reduction would equate to a 56 percent chinook salmon reduction (from 810,000 to 355,000) for Wisconsin. The other states that border Lake Michigan would also take significant chinook salmon stocking reductions through this proposal. Michigan would go from 560,000 to 200,000, Illinois would go from 230,000 to 90,000 and Indiana would go from 200,000 to 45,000. The fisheries managers across Lake Michigan believe that these reductions are necessary to maintain quality growth rates and healthy chinook for the fishery and to avoid a crash of the alewife forage base of the lake. Stocking has been a critical management tool to control alewives and provide a fantastic fishery over the years and while we have had to make reductions in the past, Wisconsin is still a leader in chinook salmon stocking.
"Since 2011, Wisconsin DNR has held more than 40 meetings, public input opportunities and attended sport and commercial meetings to work with anglers in developing a shared vision for management of our prized Lake Michigan fishery," said Todd Kalish, deputy director of DNR's fisheries bureau. "Recent data, including acoustic and trawl surveys, shows a continued decline in alewife populations and the predator-prey ratio has reached the tipping point. By working with anglers, we hope to preserve the salmon fishery to the greatest extent possible while developing and accessing options to enhance and maintain a diverse fishery. There is a framework in place that informs managers on the appropriate level of salmon and trout stocking numbers in Lake Michigan. This level can go up and down based on the available information that we are continually evaluating and upgrading."
Kalish said economic hardships caused by collapse of the salmon fishery in Lake Huron starting in 2003-04 offer a cautionary tale for Wisconsin given the more than $114.3 million in annual retail expenditures by Great Lakes sport anglers here. By working to preserve Lake Michigan's salmon fishery, DNR and its partners in surrounding states aim to navigate through the current predator-prey challenges to preserve and protect this economically important fishery into the future.
"We are particularly concerned about the many charter fishing operators on these waters and will be working to identify new opportunities to promote the diverse Lake Michigan fishing opportunities," Kalish said.
If this proposal is implemented, Wisconsin fishery managers would continue efforts to ensure a fall salmon run in Lake Michigan Rivers and streams in 10 counties. Anglers attending the upcoming meetings will be asked to provide feedback on Wisconsin's plans to distribute chinook salmon at locations including Strawberry Creek Rearing Facility, Green Bay and Lake Michigan tributaries or ports in Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Sheboygan, Manitowoc, Kewaunee, Door, Oconto and Marinette counties.
Brad Eggold, DNR southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor, said that while chinook salmon would remain an essential part of the diverse Lake Michigan fishery, going forward, species that show more adaptability in their feeding preferences may play a larger role. In addition to chinook, each year DNR stocks hundreds of thousands of coho salmon, brown trout and rainbow trout at more than 40 locations along the Lake Michigan coast. The Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan also receive about 800,000 lake trout produced by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"Working with anglers, we intend to use a variety of techniques to optimize survival of stocked trout and salmon," Eggold said. "At the same time, we will continue to work with stakeholders on projects to enhance the salmon and trout fishery on Lake Michigan. We also intend to review our management practices to ensure we are able to respond quickly as new information becomes available."
The three meetings are set for 6 to 8 p.m.: