The DNR delivered 50,403 salmon to the river between Snug Harbor and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facility as a part of its annual fish stocking program.
“They're from Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery, and they're approximately 6 months old,” DNR fisheries technician Dennis Mulka said. “The eggs were taken last October. They were hatched out, and then spent the whole winter inside the hatchery building itself.”
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 state agency 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.
In previous years, the DNR has delivered the salmon fingerlings to net pens near Waterfront Stadium at the marina. Unfavorable conditions on the Grand River — high water and a sewage release in Grand Rapids — changed the plans, and the fish were held at the hatchery until they could be released directly into the river.
Mulka said the fish are inspected before they leave the hatchery and sent on their journey.
“We give them a once-over — it’s called a fish quality assessment,” he explained. “It basically just tells us what kind of shape the fish are in before we stock them. We do one of those before we release the fish, and those were done (Thursday).”
Grand Haven Steelheaders President Roger Belter said he thought Friday’s fish planting went well.
“It didn't take long to put them in,” he said. “They seem to be acclimating to the river real fast, which is good. There weren't a lot of gulls around when we put the fish in, so that's good. Fifty-thousand is not a whole lot compared to other years, but we'll see what happens with this whole fishery and the lake.”
Friday’s stocking could be the last for Chinook salmon in Grand Haven for a while.
"As of right now, we're not on the schedule for next year,” Belter said. “But that could always change, so we'll see what happens.”
Last fall, the DNR announced changes to its fish-stocking program as part of a plan to relieve predation pressure on alewives in Lake Michigan. The DNR has 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.