For now, the fingerlings — which were delivered from Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan — are only three inches long and much like its name, are finger-length. They’ll be raised in the floating pens for about three to four weeks, where they’ll be fed three times a day by volunteers from the Grand Haven and Grand Rapids Steelheaders club, and the Grand Haven Charter Boat Association. More importantly, the fish will be out of harm’s way of predator fish, or hungry ducks and birds in search of a treat.
“The survival rate varies year-to-year, but with everything out there, it’s a much better survival rate raising them in the pens than just dumping them in the (Grand) river,” said Roger Belter, president of the Grand Haven Steelheaders.
Once the salmon are old enough to smolt — the next stage of their life — they will be released to swim the last hopefully unharmed mile on their own to Lake Michigan.
Belter and other Steelheaders club members are confident there could be less than 5 percent that will die during the process.
The pens were built and maintained by the Steelheaders clubs. A few members had a hands-on approach Tuesday, including Bob Antzak, Bob Strek and Nelson Nienhuis, who looked like bundled-up firemen. They held on tightly to a large hose connected the salmon truck as it dispensed the fish into three large pens in the water below.
The City of Grand Haven provided the docks for the project, a sure sign of support for an industry that provides a significant economic boost.
“It’s not just the fishermen who benefit from this, it’s everyone,” Belter said. “It’s the restaurants, gas stations, hotels, motels, everyone who may draw business from a charter fishermen’s customers.”
A 2009 study by Dr. Dan O’Keefe at the Michigan University Extension found that the economic benefits of charter fishing in the Grand Haven area included $1.8 million in gross sales, 40,202 employment hours and $777,284 in personal income. The study included all direct, indirect and induced effects of spending by non-residents who visited Grand Haven primarily for charter fishing.