According to data released by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 99 percent of chinook salmon now caught by Lake Superior anglers are born in the wild, not in a hatchery.
The claim is based on several years of data collected by dockside creel clerks, who monitor the difference between wild and hatchery salmon via tagging systems. 1.5 million chinook salmon which have been stocked in Lake Superior since 2012 have adipose fin clips supplied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The clerks count which fish are tagged and which aren’t, and use the ratio to determine whether or not the populations are self-sustaining.
While chinook salmon stocks have dwindled in Lakes Huron and Michigan, Superior’s populations appear to be healthy and consistently self-sustaining, despite the annual catch numbers being smaller in Superior. MLive.com spoke with DNR Lake Superior Basin coordinator Phil Schneeberger, who said that Lake Superior salmon have more prey fish – like smelt or cisco – to feast on in Superior than the lower Great Lakes. Chinook in Lakes Huron and Michigan feed on baitfish, whose numbers are dwindling due to the effects of invasive quagga mussels.
MLive.com reports that on average, 3,000 chinook salmon are caught in Lake Superior, compared to 10,000 coho salmon or 25,000-30,000 lake trout. Fisheries are less robust in Superior because it has colder overall temperatures and lower levels of nutrients. So for the Superior angler, the chinook are prized because, as Schneeberger points out, they are a larger and more elusive catch. They are often termed “king” salmon among angling aficionados.
Though Michigan continues to stock fish in the lower Great Lakes, as it has done for 50 years, it stopped stocking coho salmon Superior in 2005. Schneeberger says that the populations of coho have “maintained themselves quite consistently since then,” and indicates that they are now looking at reducing the number of chinook salmon being stocked.
Michigan continues to stock 400,000 chinook annually in Superior, though Minnesota and Wisconsin stopped their chinook stocking. Ontario contributes 100,000 to chinook salmon stocks annually. Schneeberger told MLive.com that the Michigan DNR would be looking at increasing steelhead stocking.
Photo credit: Garrett Ellison, MLive.com