The state’s strategy for stocking chinook salmon in Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan waters in 2014 and beyond is set and seeks to maintain existing great fishing opportunities in spring and summer all along the coast while tweaking the state’s original proposal based on public input to improve fall fishing.

“You spoke and we listened,” says DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp. “This stocking strategy reflects your input and will continue to help deliver the fantastic fishing opportunities you’ve enjoyed on Lake Michigan and its tributaries.”

Stepp thanked the many people who attended meetings over the past two years to provide feedback on the stocking strategy, and those who submitted comments via emails and other communications.

Mike Staggs, Wisconsin’s fisheries director, says the updated stocking strategy reflects newer research showing that chinook are highly migratory fish and that where the fish are stocked doesn’t affect the main fishery in the spring and summer.

“But stocking location does affect the fall fishery in Wisconsin, so we focused our strategy on striking a balance between providing opportunities along the coast in the fall and responding to public concerns to provide more fish where the angler pressure, harvest and economic impact are the greatest in fall,” he says.

Research shows that more than half of the chinook salmon in Lake Michigan are wild and that chinook swim all over Lake Michigan during the spring and summer. Read more in “Lake Michigan’s salmon fishery thrives,” in the December 2012 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.p>

That information and other research to date suggests that stocking plays a much more important role in determining where fish are caught in Wisconsin in the fall, with the bulk of fish returning on their spawning runs to streams where they were stocked, says Brad Eggold, DNR fisheries supervisor for southern Lake Michigan.

“We heard from stakeholders loud and clear that they wanted us to provide fall fishing opportunities in as many places as possible,” says Eggold. “This strategy provides that, but also stocks more chinook where we see more fishing for chinook.

“That’s one of the other concerns we heard at the October Lake Michigan Fisheries Forum meeting from anglers and the businesses and communities that depend on chinook.”

DNR put its stocking proposal out for public comment in August and September, and then shared it with members and visitors to the forum on Oct. 12, culminating two years of meetings and extensive public input revolving around lake-wide and state stocking of chinook. The forum is an independent group of Lake Michigan stakeholders convened by University of Wisconsin Sea Grant.

Wisconsin and other states and tribes that share fisheries management on Lake Michigan agreed to adjust stocking levels of chinook starting in 2013 to bring the number of predator fish like chinook back into line with the number of prey fish. Significantly increased natural reproduction of chinook in Michigan streams and record low levels of alewives, a key fish food, had led to declines in fish condition in recent years and university researchers projected the chinook population would crash in coming years if no measures were taken.

That lake-wide stocking adjustment, public input, and the new understanding of fish migration since DNR’s longstanding stocking strategy was created spurred DNR to update the stocking strategy, Staggs says.

The proposal DNR sent for public comment called for a baseline allocation for the counties to assure fall fishing along the coast and then called for dividing the remaining 25 percent based on four factors measuring fall fishing effort and harvest, and total charter boat trips.

After the Oct. 12 fisheries forum meeting, DNR kept most of the strategy the same but ratcheted back the number of chinook that will be stocked in 2014 into Strawberry Creek, where DNR maintains the main egg collection facility for chinook, and distributed them among other ports.

“This will still allow us to adequately meet our egg collection goals for chinook. In addition to Strawberry Creek, we also can collect chinook salmon eggs at our other two facilities (Besadny Anadromous Fisheries Facility and Root River Steelhead Facility),” Eggold says.

Two other tweaks made to the proposal change the charter trips factor to include only fall charter trips, and to provide a direct allocation of 30,000 fish to northern Door County, Staggs says.

Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Kewaunee counties also will get a larger share of fish under the new stocking strategy because they have the highest angler effort, harvest rates and charter trips in the fall, Eggold says.

Dave Boyarski, fish supervisor based out of Sturgeon Bay, says that local fish managers in those counties with multiple ports will be working with angler organizations and others to help determine where fish go within a particular county if there is more than one port. Manitowoc, Kewaunee and Door County all have more than one port.

“We received public feedback and questions about stocking numbers at specific locations within counties,” Boyarski says. “For these local decisions, fisheries managers will continue to work closely with stakeholders to ensure salmon are stocked in the best locations to benefit the fishery.”

Staggs says anglers won’t see a big change in their fishing opportunities during spring and summer because of the stocking adjustments. “We’re doing this to maintain the fantastic fishing on Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan waters,” he says. “The models show anglers shouldn’t see a big change in fishing opportunities because of the increase in natural reproduction in Michigan streams.”

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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