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October 25, 2011

STURGEON BAY - The king is back!

The chinook salmon, and the eggs they're giving up at Wisconsin's three egg collection facilities along Lake Michigan, are looking good. That's a reversal of sobering trends in recent years, and reflects adequate reproduction of the alewives chinook eat and a lake-wide reduction in stocking that is better matching fish with available food, state fisheries officials say.

"All things considered the chinook return at Strawberry Creek this year took a very positive turn after generally declining trends of numbers and size of fish returning to the weir," says Scott Hansen, the Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist heading up egg collection activities at the Strawberry Creek facility near Sturgeon Bay.

Strawberry Creek Salmon Harvest

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    DNR staff help to net the fish.

    Strawberry Creek
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    Once the net is full, it's lifted out of the water.

    Strawberry Creek
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    The fish then spend a little time in a special solution to help calm them down.

    Strawberry Creek
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    Sleepy salmon are then poured out into the holding area.

    Strawberry Creek
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    DNR staff pull the fish out of the holding area to get information on each one.

    Strawberry Creek
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    They determine the sex of the fish, measure and weigh it. This is part of the record keeping process that's been going on since the 1970s.

    Strawberry Creek
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    Eggs from the female salmon are harvested for restocking.

    Strawberry Creek
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    Salmon eggs

    Strawberry Creek
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    Strawberry Creek
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    At the end of the salmon run, DNR staff clean up the pond where the salmon were kept for harvesting, preparing it for winter.

    Strawberry Creek

The fish appeared heavier and in better condition than last year, and the average size of eggs increased considerably this year from last year. "That is another encouraging sign," Hansen says.

Fisheries crews and volunteers at Strawberry Creek handled about 5,400 chinook over six harvest days this season, up from 2,014 last year, collecting about 2.3 million eggs to be hatched and reared at state hatcheries and stocked out next year in Lake Michigan.

The story was the same at the other two facilities collecting chinook this fall, the C.D. Besadny Anadromous Fish Facility in Kewaunee, and the Root River Steelhead Facility in Racine.

Fish immediately began to enter the fish ladder and the collection ponds in Kewaunee as soon as the pumps were turned on Oct. 7, according to Mike Baumgartner, facility supervisor.

"By Friday afternoon the fishway leading to the ladder was so full of fish that we had to block the entrance to the fish way until we could get the fish into the facility," he says. "I've been at this station since 1992 and have not had to do that before.

"I've never seen the fish move into the facility all at once like they did in such a short period of time and in such high numbers."

Fish crews at the Root River also saw lots of fish in good condition. They are collecting coho and brown trout eggs, and their customers are starting to show up.

Bill Horns, DNR's Great Lakes fishery specialist, expects the coho numbers and size will be as encouraging as they were for the chinook.

"The coho fishery was tremendous early in the summer, so we're expecting they'll be showing up in good numbers and good shape this fall," Horns says.

"It's always about whether the fish get enough to eat. Apparently they did, and that is in part because we had adequate reproduction of alewives and also because Wisconsin and the other states surrounding Lake Michigan cut back chinook stocking 25 percent starting in 2006," he says.

"We did the right thing at the right time, and it's paid off in continued great fishing and in improving condition of fish."

Horns says Wisconsin and other lakes surrounding Lake Michigan are now jointly considering stocking levels for Lake Michigan and will be carefully considering the delicate balance between forage and fish numbers, particularly as natural reproduction in Michigan streams increases.

"I wouldn't say we're totally out of the woods," he says. "Alewife reproduction can be unpredictable and there is no guarantee we are secure. But we can take comfort in the size of the Chinooks harvested and in the number and size of fish returning to our egg collection facilities."

2006-11 Salmon Stamp report now available

Anglers enjoying Great Lakes tributary fishing for trout and salmon this fall can see how their purchase of trout and salmon stamps is improving their sport. The Salmon Stamp report for Fiscal Years 2006-2011 is now available online.

DNR's Great Lakes trout and salmon program is supported entirely by anglers and hunters and half of that -- about $1.8 million -- comes from the sale of salmon stamps and two-day Great Lakes fishing licenses. The rest of the funding comes from fishing licenses and other contributed to the segregated Fish and Wildlife Account.

Wisconsin started stocking Pacific strain trout and salmon in the 1960s to help control alewife numbers. The fishery has since grown very popular, and while Wisconsin waters don't support natural reproduction because of higher water temperatures and other factors, Michigan's do.

In the early 1980s, the loss of federal funding for nonnative trout and salmon stocking prompted the creation of Wisconsin's Great Lakes Trout and Salmon Stamp Program to raise money to allow continued rearing and stocking. Since 1982, every angler fishing for salmon or trout in the Wisconsin waters of the Great Lakes has been required to purchase a Great Lakes Trout and Salmon Stamp (commonly referred to as the Salmon Stamp) in addition to a fishing license.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Hansen - (920) 746-2864 or Bill Horns (608) 266-8782

Last Revised: Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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