Love Fishing? Become a Volunteer Instructor for Kids!
March 16–17, 2019, 9:30 am–4 pm (each day)
The Project F.I.S.H. Workshop helps adults of all ages learn the essentials of how to teach youth about fishing. Anyone with an interest is welcome to join the two-day, hands-on course, where participants will learn:
People and fish management
Attendees receive curriculum activities, equipment, and access to supplies and resources to begin a successful fishing program or club with youth in the classroom or in an after-school setting.
New autobiography from Dr. Howard Tanner, father of the Great Lakes salmon fishery, is an important contribution to the annals of history and an engaging read.
By Dan O’Keefe
It would be hard to understate the impact that Dr. Howard A. Tanner had on the Great Lakes region. Tanner was at the helm of the Michigan Department of Conservation’s Fish Division from 1964 until 1966. During this brief moment in time, Tanner set the course for massive change. Ultimately, his decisions were largely responsible for not only the introduction of coho and chinook salmon, but also the shift in emphasis from commercial to recreational fisheries management on the lakes, the rise of state authority and decline of federal authority to manage these fisheries, massive changes to state hatchery systems, and the beginning of state involvement in Great Lakes fishery research.
In the court of public opinion, Tanner’s actions were heralded as a great success. Coastal tourism boomed, tackle companies flourished, and property values soared as “coho madness” drew unprecedented numbers of anglers from Michigan and surrounding states. Beaches that had been littered with the decaying bodies of invasive alewives now bore witness to the birth of a world-class fishery. The small silvery alewives were nearly worthless to commercial fishermen, but their booming population provided ample food for salmon.
This 30-second story is common knowledge around Lake Michigan. It is one of those rare moments in fisheries history that transcends the community of anglers, commercial fishers, and fisheries professionals. The oft-paraphrased “line of dead fish 300 miles long” that littered popular public beaches and prime waterfront real estate was undoubtedly a key to public interest, but the booming salmon fishery that followed also enjoyed broad appreciation due to its obvious economic impacts.
It would have been tempting for Tanner to focus only on the positive in this autobiography. Indeed, he is certainly cast as the hero of the story, but there is also a great deal of reflection on the salient criticism he received. By his own admission, he was well aware of the “firm dogma against introducing non-native species” that was based on the hard lessons and failures of the past.
Tanner’s rebuttal to his critics sometimes reads as realpolitik justification or contention that the ends justified the means. After all, we now have more resilience and stability in predator-prey balance thanks to the increased number of predatory species found in open water. However, Tanner is also very honest about his primary motivation to “do something … spectacular” and create a new recreational fishery.
It is fortunate that Dr. Tanner elected to write this book late in life (he is 95 at the time of publishing) because he was able to write with unvarnished honesty without risk to his professional position or the careers of colleagues. Of course, Tanner often references his membership in the “Greatest Generation” of WWII veterans and this context is very important to understanding the attitudes and cultural norms that enabled these decisions. Even so, some of Tanner’s stories might be judged more critically by today’s standards.
Originally, his plan to do something spectacular for Michigan’s sport fishery involved three non-native fish. From an historical perspective, the discussion of all three fish species that were considered was particularly interesting. Kokanee salmon (a landlocked form of sockeye salmon) were introduced to inland lakes in Michigan before coho salmon were stocked in the Great Lakes, based in part on Tanner’s knowledge of fisheries for stocked kokanee in reservoirs from his time in Colorado. In short, the kokanee program was a failure despite early predictions for their success. Striped bass stocking in certain Great Lakes waters was considered in addition to salmon, and Tanner details the difficult decision to destroy striped bass broodstock after they were brought to a hatchery in Michigan from South Carolina.
At the end of the day, Tanner maintains his belief that the salmon introduction was “the right decision at the right time.” A great many anglers, coastal residents, and small business owners along the Great Lakes’ shores would agree with this wholeheartedly. Among fisheries biologists and Great Lakes ecologists, I think it is fair to say that opinions are more nuanced while state-licensed and tribal commercial fishers have more negative views (which are explored along with sport fishing views in the book Fish for All).
In addition to providing an insider’s perspective on the birth of the Great Lakes salmon fishery, Tanner provides readers with a look at his early life spent fishing for trout, deployment in the South Pacific, and his graduate research on lake fertilization. Along with providing context for his later work, these early chapters serve to remind us just how much things have changed since the early days of fisheries management.
For example, Tanner initially hypothesized that fertilizing lakes would increase trout production. After adding nutrients to a lake, Tanner observed that trout growth increased over the first summer, but there was a large fish die-off that winter due to oxygen depletion below the ice. Today we take it for granted that fertilizing glacial lakes in the upper Midwest is a terrible idea because excess nutrients lead to increased decomposition and decreases in dissolved oxygen. Early research projects like Tanner’s provided the science that led to our current paradigm of seeking to reduce nutrient inputs to lakes, as opposed to increasing them.
Mindsets change slowly, but Dr. Tanner’s tell-all autobiography paints us a vivid picture of that moment in time where everything changed dramatically and almost overnight. Those times still factor into the psyche of today’s anglers. The mix of seemingly unlimited forage, the overnight sensation of a booming fishery in response to stocking, and the equation of “more fish stocked = more fish caught” that held true for decades left a deep imprint. Now, as we collectively look toward the future, Tanner’s book provides crucial historical context for our present situation and a thoughtful exploration of the critical factors that led to his decision.
Author’s note:Looking back at my own life and career, Dr. Tanner’s influence looms large.
My decision to study Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University was based on two things: they offered a course in ichthyology (the study of fish – at the time I did not understand exactly what fisheries management entailed), and the fact that the Red Cedar River flowed through campus and supported a run of coho salmon. As a student at MSU, Dr. Tanner gave a guest lecture in a course on Great Lakes issues and I began to use the example of his decision to explain to family and friends what the field of fisheries management is all about, and how it can relate to people who don’t necessarily care about fishing.
Now, as an extension professional working with Great Lakes charter captains and recreational salmon anglers, I can attest to the fact that Dr. Tanner’s legacy is very much appreciated by people who launched their own businesses, organized their social life, and invested their savings on the promise of salmon in the Great Lakes. After half a century of salmon and the appearance of quagga mussels, spiny water fleas, round gobies, and other invaders, we are now grappling with the question of how to best balance the mix of salmon and trout species with shrinking (or a least changing) food resources.
This article was written by Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Dr. Dan O’Keefe under award NA14OAR4170070 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce through the Regents of the University of Michigan. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce, or the Regents of the University of Michigan.
Charter fishing on Lake Huron picked up steam in 2017 while other lakes held strong.
By Daniel O’Keefe
Charter fishing catch and effort statistics from 2017 are now available from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Charter Boat Reporting Program. Each year, the economic impact of charter fishing is calculated by Michigan Sea Grant based on the number of fishing trips that charter captains report to the DNR.
Despite the many problems that challenge the future of Great Lakes fisheries, charter fishing continues to provide an important component of coastal tourism. In fact, the economic impact of tourism generated by charter fishing in Michigan rose to $25.4 million in 2017. This represents a 4.5 percent increase from 2016 to 2017 after adjusting for inflation.
Lake Michigan holds steady
The Lake Michigan fishery has experienced a lot of uncertainty in recent years, but the lake’s charter fishing industry has been remarkably steady since the late 1990s. Fluctuations in charter fishing effort (and resulting economic impacts) have not been closely linked to catch rates, in part because fishing success has ranged from good to fantastic since Chinook salmon recovered from a bacterial kidney disease (BKD) epidemic in the mid-1990s.
In 2017, charter captains logged 12,122 fishing trips in Michigan waters of Lake Michigan, generating tourism that created over $7 million in personal income and over 322,000 employment hours. This was very similar to the economic impact of 11,791 trips reported in 2016, and reflects the continued high level of interest in charter fishing for salmon and trout.
Lake Michigan offers anglers a variety of trout and salmon species, but Chinook salmon are often considered the premier gamefish. Charter fishing produced an average of 2.1 Chinooks per trip in 2017, which is similar to catch rates in 2015 and 2016. Prior to 2013, Chinook salmon targeted catch rates were much higher (up to 7.4 per charter trip) but fishing effort and economic impacts were similar.
Catch rates are calculated by the Michigan DNR, and these rates represent the number of Chinooks caught per trip targeting salmon and trout of all species. These targeted catch rates are used to exclude incidental salmon catches taken by anglers fishing for walleye, bass, or other fish that are targeted using different gear or methods.
The resurgence of Lake Huron
Much of the angst surrounding declining Chinook salmon catch rates on Lake Michigan is related to the crash of Lake Huron’s salmon fishery in 2004. After Chinook salmon targeted catch rates fell from 2.4 fish per charter trip in 2004 to 1.2 fish per trip in 2005 the Lake Huron charter fishery was cut in half.
Although Lake Huron’s charter industry was never as large as Lake Michigan’s, the impact of lost tourism and fishing opportunities was devastating to many coastal communities. From 2006 to 2015, Lake Huron captains logged fewer than 2,000 charter trips per year, but in 2016 things started looking up. Fishing effort rose to 2,154 trips in 2016 – just below the long-term average of 2,176 (1990-2017). In 2017, Lake Huron rose above this long-term average for the first time since 2004 with 2,548 trips logged.
The economic impact of Lake Huron charter fishing has increased by roughly 45 percent since 2015. In 2017, charter fishing generated tourism that created over 90,000 employment hours and $1.2 million in personal income for coastal communities on Lake Huron. When adjusted for inflation, this looks more like the good old days than the “collapsed fishery” we have heard so much about.
There are some big differences between today’s Lake Huron charter fishery and the fishery of 2002, though. For one thing, Chinook salmon remain scarce in most of the lake for most of the year. In fact, anglers targeting salmon and trout caught fewer than one Chinook for every two trips taken in 2017. The resurgence in Lake Huron’s fishery is not due to any recovery of Chinook salmon, but solid lake trout fishing, phenomenal walleye catch rates (over 25 fish caught per charter trip targeting walleye), and changing regulations on Saginaw Bay may have had positive impacts. Saginaw Bay now accounts for 41 percent of charter fishing effort on Lake Huron, up from a low of around 8 percent in 2005.
Since 2015, anglers on Saginaw Bay have been able to keep up to eight walleye per day, and the minimum size limit was reduced from 15 to 13 inches. The long term biological goal is, in part, to reduce the number of walleye preying on yellow perch. Historically, yellow perch have been extremely important in drawing anglers to Great Lakes fisheries so this could be an additional boon in years to come.
While things do seem to be looking up on Lake Huron, it is also possible that 2017 was just an exceptionally good year relative to the “new normal.” It would be premature to assume that other species have effectively filled in the gap left by the loss of Chinook salmon, but results from last year’s charter season are definitely encouraging. Anecdotal reports from the 2018 season suggest that fishing effort and harvest may be a bit lower on Saginaw Bay because of high winds that result in cancelled trips and warm water that caused walleye to leave the bay earlier than usual.
Other waters continue to offer world class fishing
Although salmon get a lot of attention when it comes to charter fishing, many Michigan waters offer incredible fishing opportunities for other species. Lake Erie provides fast fishing for walleye, with 2017 being no exception. Lake Superior’s vast expanse of cold water attracts lake trout anglers. Some Superior charter captains offer trips that focus on casting or jigging, which offers a fun alternative to trolling methods used in most Great Lakes lake trout waters. The St. Mary’s River hosts a run of Atlantic salmon, which is renowned for its tendency to jump repeatedly when hooked. Atlantics are also starting to show up regularly in northern and southern Lake Huron due to expanded stocking.
Detroit may be the largest urban center in Michigan, but it also provides some of the fastest fishing around. The St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River offer catch-and-release charter fishing options on some of the best smallmouth bass and musky waters in the world. The musky is known as the “fish of 10,000 casts” but in 2017 charter fishing in Lake St. Clair produced an average of 2.7 fish per trip. Charter trips targeting bass on Lake St. Clair produced over 25 fish per trip in 2017. Yellow perch and walleye also provide great fishing for charter anglers who prefer to keep their catch. The Detroit River is a hotspot for walleye in the spring, and walleye charters harvested an average of 16 fish per trip in 2017.
No matter where you are in Michigan, quality charter fishing is never very far from your doorstep.
Birds and mammals are usually the focus for wildlife watchers, but the fall salmon run provides spectacular fish-watching opportunities, too. Visit weirs and dams in west Michigan this fall or watch a new video to enjoy the spectacle.
By Daniel O’Keefe
Hunting and fishing get much of the attention when it comes to outdoor recreation, but a recent survey by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that more Americans engage in wildlife watching than fishing and hunting combined. The survey found that 17 million people traveled for bird watching in 2016, while 4.3 million traveled to watch fish.
Of course, birds are usually much easier to observe in their natural environment than fish – but fall in west Michigan offers a chance to watch salmon as they jump barriers and congregate in clear, shallow water to spawn. The large fish are often easy to see in clear water, but polarized sunglasses can be helpful to cut through glare on the surface.
Rivers of the northwestern Lower Peninsula provide excellent opportunities to view salmon due to high quality habitat and a combination of natural reproduction and stocking. Smaller natural runs can be found in creeks scattered around the state, and stocking supports large runs of salmon in some rivers where spawning habitat is lacking. Some of the best locations for watching salmon are closed to fishing during the salmon run because fish are so abundant and vulnerable to fishing or illegal snagging (be sure to check the latest version of Michigan Fishing Guide for current regulations if you plan to fish at any of the following locations).
During their upstream migration, salmon encounter obstacles both natural and man-made. Weirs are removable man-made barriers that serve to block the passage of fish upstream at certain times of the year. Michigan Department of Natural Resourcesoperates several weirs, and some of the best fish watching opportunities in the state can be found below weirs on the Little Manistee River east of Stronach, Platte River near Honor, and Boardman River in Traverse City. Check links for driving directions and details for each location or click here to learn more about how and why weirs are operated.
Dams and fish ladders
Dams provide great opportunities for fish watching because they are often located in urban environments and are easily accessible to large numbers of people. Fish Ladder Park in Grand Rapids is one of the best places to view salmon beginning around Labor Day. Visitors can see salmon jumping at Sixth Street Dam on the Grand River and ascending a fish ladder that allows salmon to work their way upstream one small step at a time. Brenke Fish Ladder in Lansing is another option for viewing coho salmon in the Grand River later in the season (October and November). Other dams like Tippy Dam near Wellston, Homestead Dam near Benzonia, and Hamlin Dam at Ludington State Park are farther off the beaten path but provide great places to watch the salmon run in a more natural setting.
Clear creeks and gravelly rivers
Many river systems host large salmon runs. The Pere Marquette River, Manistee River, Betsie River, and Platte River all offer a good combination of clear, shallow water and public land with forested trails ideal for exploring. Paddling a canoe or kayak on these scenic rivers is always a treat, but late summer and early fall offer the added bonus of salmon viewing.
These rivers are also popular with salmon fishermen during much of the season, so crowding can be an issue and fish may avoid shallow water when fishing pressure is heavy. However, many smaller streams are closed to fishing during the peak of salmon spawning activity. Over 1,400 Michigan streams are classified as Type 1 streams by the Michigan DNR. These small creeks are closed to fishing after September 30 each year, and this makes them ideal for watching salmon spawn. Salmon are less wary when they are not concerned about hooks, and Type 1 streams offer the chance to get up close to salmon as they spawn over gravel beds in clear, shallow water.
To find a likely spot near you, start with streams outlined in green on the map of trout streams in your area. Not all Type 1 streams support salmon runs, but most gravel-bottomed Type 1 streams will host at least small numbers of fish if no downstream dams block their progress upstream. Some of the best places to look are small creeks that flow into larger rivers that are popular with salmon anglers.
Videos and webcams
If you can’t get out on the water, you can still watch Michigan salmon on webcams or YouTube. The Center for Freshwater Research and Education at Lake Superior State Universityhas a webcam in the St. Mary’s River, where viewers can watch Atlantic salmon returning to their stocking site. Another webcam is located in the fish ladder at Berrien Springs. Funding for the purchase and installation of this camera was provided by Evoke kayaks, and a crowdfunding campaign will begin in mid-August 2018, to support operation of the Berrien Springs fishcam.
Michigan Sea Grant also recently released a YouTube video with scenes from the salmon run. The video features underwater footage of salmon in many of the locations mentioned in this article and provides science-based interpretation of salmon behavior during the spawning run.
In case you missed the South Haven Fisheries Workshop, videos recap presentations on the state of Lake Michigan fisheries.
By Dan O’Keefe
On April 19 the Southern Lake Michigan Regional Fisheries Workshop was hosted by Michigan Sea Grant in conjunction with South Haven Steelheaders. This annual event draws local South Haven anglers in addition to big lake fishing enthusiasts from around southwest Michigan.
improvement of habitat connectivity in rivers that feed into Lake Michigan
maintaining predator-prey balance
The plan strives to maintain a diverse fishery focused primarily on Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and steelhead with additional opportunities for other species. Marketing the lake’s excellent fishing opportunities with products like the new Roadmap to Lake Michigan Fishing is also a priority. See the video for more details and Jay’s overview of stocking options for 2019 (beginning at 16:17).
Forage Fish Monitoring
Chuck Madenjian, Research Fishery Biologist with U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center, gave an update on forage fish abundance in Lake Michigan. This is always a topic of interest to anglers because salmon and trout depend on alewife and other forage fish for food. Total forage fish biomass (as estimated from bottom trawls) was the fourth lowest recorded since 1973. Hydroacoustic and midwater trawl sampling showed that the 2017 alewife year-class was relatively weak, but better than the very poor 2013 and 2014 year-classes. See the video for discussion of differences between sampling gears and more details on prey fish distribution around the lake.
Great Lakes Mass Marking Program
Matt Kornis of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service gave an update on the Great Lakes Mass Marking Program. Wild reproduction of Chinook salmon is estimated based on the ratio of stocked to wild Age 1 fish, so 2017 data were used to estimate production of 4.2 million wild Chinook salmon in 2016. This is about average for wild reproduction in recent history, and a big increase from the poor 2013 wild year-class (1.1 million) and 2015 wild year-class (2.2 million). See video for more results from salmon and lake trout tag recovery and diet studies for trout, salmon, and burbot.
The 2018 Southern Lake Michigan Fishery Workshop was a great chance to meet fisheries professionals and learn more about the status of gamefish and preyfish populations. Balancing predators and prey is a perennial topic at these workshops, and all three recorded presentations related to this theme.
Presentations include updates on several important fish issues, public encouraged to attend and provide input.
By Elliot Nelson
Do you like to fish on Lake Superior and want to know what others are catching on the lake? Do you want to hear how industrial pollutants from long ago are impacting fish habitat today? Are you looking to tour a world class research facility? The Lake Superior Fisheries Workshop on April 30, 2018, will offer answers to these questions and more.
Michigan Sea Grant workshops are intended to inform the angling community and general public about fish populations and management. This year, in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), our Lake Superior Fisheries Workshop will be held at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich. The workshop will feature a variety of talks from the university and management agencies of the MDNR and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The talks will help anglers and the general public understand what research is taking place on the lake and how it is informing fisheries management decisions. There will also be plenty of time for questions and answers allowing anglers to give valuable input.
Paintings reveal the hidden life beneath the beautiful inland seas.
By Cindy Hudson
The exhibit “Alexis Rockman: The Great Lakes Cycle” will be at the Grand Rapids Art Museum through April 29, 2018. Below a detail of a lake trout from the “Forces of Change” panel. Photos: Cindy Hudson | Michigan Sea Grant
If you love the waters and creatures of the Great Lakes, you won’t want to miss the chance to see the Alexis Rockman:The Great Lakes Cycle exhibition at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. But don’t delay — the magnificent art exhibit is nearing the end of its three-month run and will only be in town through April 29, 2018. After that Michiganders will have to wait until 2020 for the paintings to return to the state.
The art museum commissioned the artist to research and create five mural-sized paintings depicting the past, present, and future of the Great Lakes. Over the course of four years, Rockman traveled the Great Lakes region, met with scientists and other experts, and created this special display. Included in the exhibit are murals, watercolors, and field drawings.
Rockman’s five mural-sized paintings are filled with information and detail. His paintings have been described as “visual essays” and indeed tell a story which invokes wonder, appreciation, and also apprehension for the future of these critical waters. It’s an important story for all of us to learn and know.
A critical resource
The Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, and their connecting channels — form the largest surface fresh water system on earth. Environmental stewardship, sustainable economic development, and responsible use of the Great Lakes are crucial components of keeping the lakes and the region vibrant. Rockman’s exhibit challenges viewers to remember how actions and decisions often have ripple effects on the lakes. Several of the large panels can be “read” from left to right, telling the evolutionary story and showing scientific and cultural timelines. Reading these paintings, one can’t help but wonder what’s next for these important waters and be challenged to be a better steward of them for future generations.
For the museum visitor, drawing keys help tell the story and identify each element contained in the large panels. The museum has also created a Great Lakes bingo game to capture the imagination of children and adults, but also impart facts and knowledge. Playing the game encourages real study of the individual elements of the panels.
The watercolors and field study drawings are magnificent as well. In the field studies, Rockman has included sand, dirt, and other elements he collected during his travels around the region. For example, his Common Snapping Turtle includes sand from Pictured Rocks, and his rendering of a wood duck includes sand from the Cuyahoga River.
Book a bonus you won’t want to miss
To add to the experience of viewing Rockman’s paintings, be sure to pick up a copy of the exhibition catalogue, which was published by the art museum in association with Michigan State University Press. The book’s essays, descriptions, and beautiful photographs make it a perfect way to enhance — and remember — the experience of standing in front of one of Rockman’s beautiful paintings. The catalogue was written by Dana Friis-Hansen, director of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, with contributions by Jeff Alexander and Thyrza Nichols Goodeve. One suggestion would be to order and read the book first, then see the exhibit. At the very least, grab one at the museum store to study at leisure. The book also includes the detailed keys that explain each element of the large panels.
After leaving Grand Rapids, the exhibit will tour the Great Lakes region. The tour schedule will wrap up back in Michigan in 2020 with its visit to the Flint Institute of Arts. For more information, visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum’s website at www.artmuseumgr.org or contact Visitor Services at (616) 831-1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New report details results from information volunteer anglers provide.
By Dan O’Keefe
Anglers are keen observers of the aquatic environment. The Salmon Ambassadors program provides Lake Michigan and Lake Huron anglers with a way to share their observations on wild and stocked salmon. Thanks to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes Mass Marking Program, Chinook salmon stocked in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have been marked with an adipose clip since 2011. This means that anglers can identify stocked fish by looking for a clipped adipose fin. The contribution of wild fish to the catch (% Wild) can then be calculated.
Volunteers with the Salmon Ambassadors program measured each and every Chinook salmon caught during the course of the fishing season and checked for fin clips. At the end of each season, volunteers provided their data to Michigan Sea Grant along with answering a few questions about their season. Since 2014, 81 volunteers have provided a complete data set for at least one season.
A new fact sheet details results from the past four years. Here are a few highlights:
Volunteers provided useful data on 8,474 Chinook salmon.
Fishing satisfaction has been on the rise since 2015.
% Wild was consistently higher in Michigan than in Wisconsin.
% Wild increased each month from May to September in northern Michigan ports on Lake Michigan due to the return of wild fish to natal streams.
In southern Wisconsin and northern Lake Huron, % Wild was lowest in September due to the return of mature stocked fish to stocking sites.
Southern Michigan ports did not seem to benefit from a large run of mature stocked fish in September, as we had originally expected.
In 2013, a 46 percent reduction in Lake Michigan stocking and a corresponding 84 percent drop in natural reproduction (according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) made for a very weak year-class. This translated into tough fishing in 2015 and 2016, when these fish would have been two and three years old, respectively. Salmon Ambassadors saw big changes in the size structure of their catches as a result. Although anglers felt the pain of tough salmon fishing, the reduction in predation was important for improving predator-prey balance and preventing the collapse of the alewife population.