The Michigan Department of Natural Resources planned to deliver Chinook salmon fingerlings to net pens at the marina on April 26, but it’ll be a little while longer until the new fish make their Grand Haven debut.
Grand Haven Steelheaders President Roger Belter said the DNR is going to keep the fish in the hatchery this year because of high water levels, noting that sewage released upstream in Grand Rapids also played a factor in the delay.
Instead of being placed at the net pens and then released into the river, Belter said the DNR would hold the fingerlings at the hatchery and then visit the week of May 1 to deposit them directly into the river.
The DNR plans to stock about 50,000 fish into the river this year.
“It’s down a little from last year,” Belter said, in reference to the 59,133 Chinook salmon delivered to the net pens in 2016.
The decrease is among changes to the fish stocking program the DNR announced last fall as part of a plan to relieve predation pressure on alewives in Lake Michigan.
“They are concerned about it crashing like Lake Huron because of the bait fish out there,” Belter said.
The DNR noted that Lake Michigan’s Chinook salmon population has steadily decreased since its peak in 2012, mainly due to a decline in its primary food source — the alewife. The hope is that by reducing predator fish, the alewife will flourish, preventing a crash in the predator fish population.
“They’re trying to do a preventative measure,” Belter said.
As part of the plan announced last fall, the DNR says it will continue to stock 1.57 million coho salmon, 580,000 steelhead and 550,000 brown trout to maintain a diverse fishery. In the near future, the state will eliminate its own stocking of lake trout in Lake Michigan and replace these fish with steelhead.
“A lot of fish are going in — it’s just not going to be king salmon,” Belter said of the new plan.
The DNR rears fish at six production facilities throughout the state, managing as many as 46 rearing ponds and eight Great Lakes imprinting net pen locations. The DNR also maintains a fleet of 18 specialized fish stocking vehicles.
Over the course of a typical year, the DNR stocks roughly 26 million fish collectively weighing nearly 350 tons — including eight species of trout and salmon, and three cool-water strains of walleye and muskellunge.