Due to massive cuts in the number of salmon being stocked in Lake Michigan this year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources poured just 59,000 baby Chinook Salmon into the Grand River on Monday.
That’s quite a drop from the 175,000 salmon fingerlings that were planted here the last two years, and the 250,000 that were planted not many years ago.
The reason for the reduction is the fear that the salmon are beginning to outnumber their primary prey — alewives.
The fact that salmon are beginning to reproduce naturally in Lake Michigan tributaries only throws the proportion out of balance further.
Typically, the salmon fry are placed into net pens at Grand Haven Municipal Marina, a project handled by the Grand Haven Steelheaders.
This year, the fish were dumped directly into the river.
“We’re two weeks later than normal because the river was flooded,” said Steelheaders president Roger Belter. “The fish started to smolt at the hatchery, and with the river the way it is (high levels of e-coli due to sewage dumped into the river in Grand Rapids), we don’t want to keep them in here any longer than we have to.”
Belter and several other members of the Steelheaders were on hand at the Municipal Marina to help with the planting process, only to find out that the DNR had instead done the plant at the boat launch at Harbor Island.
The consensus was that none of those on hand could remember a year when the salmon weren’t planted in the nets, going back more than three decades.
“I don’t ever remember not using the nets,” Belter said. “The original plant in the 60s and early 70s went right into the river, but we’ve been doing the net pens for more than 30 years.”
In addition to the severe cut in the number of fish planted at Grand Haven, the normal plant of 75,000 kings dumped farther upriver was discontinued this year.
On the plus side, the coho plant which usually takes place in Lansing was moved downriver to Lowell, making it easier for the fish to reach Lake Michigan.