Michigan betting on Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon

Jerry Romanowski watched thousands of 6-inch Atlantic salmon dance across the water Tuesday, minutes after they dove into Lexington State Harbor.

Romanowski, a director of the Flint River Valley Steelheaders, drove from Lapeer to set off small fireworks to scare cormorants hoping to make an easy meal of the young fish.

“It’s important for the fishermen,” he said. “Fishing brings a lot of money into Michigan, a ton of money.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources hopes Tuesday’s deposit of about 19,500 Atlantic salmon at the Lexington State Harbor will increase salmon stocks in Lake Huron.

The salmon will join about 60,000 stocked in the Thunder Bay and AuSable rivers.

Jim Baker, manager of the southern Lake Huron fisheries management unit, said this is the second year the state has stocked Atlantic salmon in the harbor.

Lexington State Harbor received about 5,000 more Atlantic salmon than it did last year from the DNR’s Platte River State Fish Hatchery in Beulah.

“All of our sites along Lake Huron got a little bit of a bump this year because the hatchery is slowly tooling up, and they found they’re able to raise a little more fish,” Baker said.

Lake Superior State University has successfully stocked salmon in the St. Mary’s River for years, Baker said. The DNR hopes to replicate the university’s success in lower Lake Huron.

He said the plantings are experimental — a replacement for dwindling Chinook salmon populations.

“Atlantic salmon seem to feed all the way from the top to the bottom of the food chain,” Baker said.

“They are a better fit for the lake than we have out there now, for the food web that we have out there now.”

Baker said the Chinook population began to dwindle when the alewife populations crashed thanks to the zebra and quagga mussels’ entry into the Great Lakes.

“We’re having to try many new things in Lake Huron in order to maintain our cold-water fishery because the food web has changed so dramatically,” Baker said.

“We’re having to look at new species to help fill the void left by the Chinook.”
Baker said only time will tell whether the plantings are a success. He said none of last year’s plant — identified by a clipped adipose fin on the fish’s back behind the dorsal fin — have been reported by anglers to the DNR.

“We’ve been looking diligently for those fish, and we haven’t seen any yet,” Baker said. “We’re concerned. Hopefully, they’ll show up come this fall.”

Fish planted last year had an adipose fin clip to distinguish them from Atlantic salmon planted in the St. Mary’s River by Lake Superior State University. The LSSU fish have a left pectoral fin clip, Baker said.

This year’s fish in Lexington Harbor, the AuSable River and Thunder Bay River also have an adipose fin clip and a coated wire tag in their snouts.

Baker said anyone who catches a fish with an adipose fin clip should save the head or snout and give it to the DNR.

The DNR can tell from the tag where and when the fish was stocked.

“The Lexington plant is unique in that it’s the one place we’ve ever had where we didn’t have a river for them to return to,” he said.

“We will have to see if they’re going to return to the harbor where they were planted.”

The plant in Lexington is a put and take fishery, meaning any fish put in the harbor will be harvested by anglers and likely will not spawn.

“This is a way to enhance fishing in the Great Lakes when there are bottlenecks that keep fish from reproducing on their own,” Baker said.

“If things go as planned, they should start catching them next spring, assuming that this experiment works.”