Planning the future of Lake Michigan's fishery

Alex Doty • Dec 2, 2017 at 9:00 AM

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources presented its latest plan to manage the Lake Michigan fishery during a special meeting at Loutit District Library on Thursday night.

It was the third in three such meetings statewide this week. Others took place in Manistique and Traverse City.

“Collecting public input is a critical part in effectively managing Michigan’s world-class fisheries,” said Jay Wesley, the DNR’s Lake Michigan Basin coordinator. “The conversations we hope to have at this month’s meetings will help us all re-think how we do some new things on Lake Michigan, yet still meet the needs of anglers and the resource.”

According to the DNR, the draft plan sets a long-term vision and goals for the Lake Michigan fishery, and also outlines the process for ensuring the public is involved, and is aligned with shorter-term strategies and tactics.

“We’re planning on this to be a living document. It’s going to be housed on a website and it will be updated annually,” Wesley said. 

The draft was developed through a process that included engagement with focus groups, advisory committees and DNR staff throughout the year.

“The purpose of our management plan, it is really for Michigan,” Wesley said. “How is Michigan going to manage the lake?”

According to Wesley, the DNR — together with other state natural resource agencies and tribal fishery managers — is working to balance predators in Lake Michigan with available prey.

“We’ve been reducing Chinook salmon stocking,” he said. “This spring, it was a 41 percent reduction.”

According to the DNR draft plan, Chinook salmon are relatively inexpensive to stock, with a cost of $3.70 per fish harvested in the lake in 2016.

Throughout the year, various stakeholders contacted the DNR to ask them to consider reducing other predators, rather than just Chinook salmon, to seek a predator and prey balance.

“This is an opportunity to adjust what we’re doing and get some of them (Chinook salmon) back,” Wesley said.

According to Wesley, the concept of zonal management became a tactic within the plan — a way that would prioritize management based on habitat, nutrient inputs and climatic conditions of the lake. It would also provide a platform for local areas to promote their fisheries based on their habitat and the species that thrive there.

The stocking options presented in this document are a step closer to zonal management by reducing some species, moving others and increasing stocking in locations that are appropriate.

The 2018 and 2019 stocking year options will only cover brown trout, coho salmon, lake trout and Chinook salmon, and officials note that any option that reduces other species will provide predator room for more Chinook salmon stocking. Options under consideration by the DNR include a reduction in movement of brown trout, the movement of some coho salmon to southern Lake Michigan, and reductions in second-priority lake trout stocking sites in northern Lake Michigan.

“These options aren’t set in stone,” Wesley said. “They are something to talk about and have a conversation around.”

The public can view and comment on the draft plan by visiting https://mdnrlmfmp.wordpress.com, a website hosted through a partnership with Michigan Sea Grant. You can submit feedback on the draft plan through Dec. 8.

“This January, we will start implementing the plan, and then we will do an annual review,” Wesley said.

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