BOOK REVIEW: Something Spectacular: My Great Lakes Salmon Story

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

Cover of Dr. Howard Tanner's book.

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.

This book is available in hardcover from MSU Press for $39.95 (or ebook $31.95) at http://msupress.org/books/book/?id=50-1D0-44D9#.XD458ml7mM8

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.


Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.

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.

Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail website offers new opportunities

Newly launched site helps visitors explore locations and find events, experiences to help understand, appreciate our Great Lakes fisheries heritage.

By: Brandon Schroeder

People and coastal communities have both valued and benefited from Great Lakes fisheries throughout time. These Great Lakes fisheries – a story of people, fish, and fishing – are dynamic and ever changing. The Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail seeks to connect people and places, information and experiences for those interested in engaging in this story.

A newly launched website for the Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail offers interactive opportunities to explore the past, present and future of the lakes through the lens of fish and fishing.

Explore the Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail

Museum exhibits and educational opportunities along this trail highlight our fisheries heritage, ecology and management, economic and social issues that have defined coastal communities across the Great Lakes. The trail includes museums, coastal fishing communities, fish markets and processing facilities, events, research and science centers throughout the region.

  • View an interactive map of Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail sites to explore these expanded opportunities, including:
  • Trail sites and experiences across the Great Lakes that offer a wide variety of activities, information, or experiences relating to Great Lakes fisheries – past and present.
  • A growing trail network. A partnership with Wisconsin Sea Grant has fostered an opportunity to include new sites and expand opportunities among other Great Lakes states.
  • Community connections. Several communities or regional tourism partnerships have connected a collection of fisheries heritage sites, experiences and information to explore locally.
  • Trail stories. Themed trails offer a path for exploring the Great Lakes region by way of interesting stories. Explore the story behind the ‘turtle back’ gill net tug or learn about the life of a fisherman. Find fish markets and restaurants that sell or serve a taste of the Great Lakes.
  • Expanded access to organizational and educational information that may be of interest to educators, history buffs, or fish enthusiasts.

A community-supported website – learn how to get involved

The Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail represents a network and partnership among museum, maritime heritage, and fisheries partners cooperating to promote our fisheries heritage. The collective efforts of these partners is helping to preserve and interpret historical artifacts, enhance local communities and heritage-based tourism, and offer educational opportunities focusing on Great Lakes literacy and stewardship.

Would you like to learn more, have ideas to share or simply want to get your organization or community involved with this network and partnership? You can participate and share your fisheries heritage connections directly on this website or simply send an email toglfisheriestrail@gmail.com.

Lots of partners make it possible

Funding for this new Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail website was provided, in part, by the Michigan Coastal Zone Management ProgramMichigan Department of Natural Resources Office of the Great Lakes and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce; and supported by Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension.  The Northeast Michigan Council of GovernmentsLand information Access Association, along with fisheries and maritime heritage experts from Michigan Sea Grant, Cultural Consulting, History by Design, and Great Lakes History and Interpretation consulting provided leadership in facilitating design and content development for this new website.

A collaborative Design Team reflecting many federal, state, and local organizational partners and dedicated individuals contributed countless hours of enthusiasm and expertise, design creativity, and content for this site. This is a community-driven website — everyone’s contributions to the Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage story are invited.

Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference

Event Date: 1/26/2019

Great Lakes Commercial Fisheries Issues to be Discussed at Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference

Michigan Sea Grant Extension will be coordinating a daylong, educational program on current issues affecting the Great Lakes commercial fishing industry. The program will run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, January 26, 2019 as part of the Michigan Fish Producers Association Annual Conference at the Park Place Hotel in Traverse City.

There is no charge for attending this event. For additional information please contact Ron Kinnunen (Michigan Sea Grant Extension) at (906) 226-3687 or kinnune1@msu.edu

Agenda

Park Place Hotel
300 E. State Street
Traverse City, Michigan 

Great Lakes Commercial Fisheries Educational Session, Lakes Conference Room

Moderator: Ron Kinnunen (Michigan Sea Grant)

9:00-9:30 am – Superior and Michigan-Huron Lake Levels: A Review of 2018 and Updates/Possibilities in 2019

            Mark Breederland (Michigan Sea Grant)

9:30-10:15 am – Great Lakes Weather: An Update from the National Weather Service

            Jason Alumbaugh (National Weather Service)

10:15-10:45 am – Status and Management of Lake Whitefish Populations in 1836 Treaty Waters-2019

            Dave Caroffino (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

10:45-11:15 am – Status and Trends of Prey Fish in Lake Michigan, 2017

            Chuck Madenjian (U.S. Geological Survey)

11:15-12:00 noon – Early Life Diets and Possible Recruitment Bottlenecks for Lake Whitefish in Lakes Michigan and Huron

            Steve Pothoven (NOAA-Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory)

12 noon-1:00 pm – Lunch on your own

1:00-1:30 pm – Fishtown: A Report from the Docks

            Amanda Holmes (Fishtown)

1:30-2:15 pm – Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail: New Website, New Opportunity

            Brandon Schroeder (Michigan Sea Grant)

2:15-2:45 pm – Changes in Cormorant Numbers and Reproductive Output since Regime Change: Implications for Fisheries

            Jim Ludwig (Waterbird Population Ecologist Consultant)

2:45-3:15 pm – Catch Composition and Bycatch in an Experimental Lake Whitefish Trawling Study

            Titus Seilheimer (Wisconsin Sea Grant)

3:15-3:45 pm – Cisco Integrated Assessment

            Ron Kinnunen (Michigan Sea Grant)

3:45-4:15 pm – Contaminants in Walleye from Two Areas of Concern (AOCs): Fox River and Saginaw River

            Chuck Madenjian (U.S. Geological Survey) 

Ludington Regional Fishery Workshop

Event Date: 1/19/2019

January 19, 2019

8:45 a.m.–2:45 p.m.

Doors open at 8:00 a.m.

West Shore Community College
Administration and Conference Building
3000 North Stiles Road, Scottville, MI 49454

The annual Ludington Regional Fishery Workshop addresses issues important to Lake Michigan charter captains, recreational anglers, and conservationists.  This year’s event will feature a broad range of topics including sea lamprey control, exotic mussels, and the balance of predators and prey fish in Lake Michigan.

The afternoon will close with a special session on cormorant control. Depredation orders allowed for lethal control of cormorants before a 2016 federal court decision struck the orders down.  The afternoon session will provide historical context on the issue with an eye toward the future.

PRE-REGISTER online or by phone by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 15. Pre-registration is $30/person and includes lunch. If you have not attended this workshop in the past, you will need to create an account create an account to register online.  To register by phone call Cara Mitchell at (231) 843-5825.

For those who do not register in advance, walk-in registration is $35/person and lunch may not be included depending on availability.

Contact 

Dan O’Keefe, Ph.D.
Southwest District Extension Educator
Michigan Sea Grant
Michigan State University Extension
okeefed@msu.edu

Great Lakes Fisheries: The Fish and the People Who Fish

Event Date: 11/8/2018

Great Lakes fisheries – fish and people who fish – have significantly benefited coastal communities, the Great Lakes region and the nation throughout history and still today. Learn about our dynamic Great Lakes fisheries and a new Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail which offers the opportunity to explore the past, present and future of the lakes through the lens of fish and fishing, presented by Brandon Schroeder.

A Michigan Sea Grant Extension educator, Schroeder has served coastal Lake Huron counties in northeast Michigan for nearly 15 years. His current Sea Grant Extension efforts involve fisheries science, sustainable coastal tourism development, Lake Huron biodiversity conservation, and promoting Great Lakes literacy and education opportunities.

The program will be held 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan, 491 Johnson St, Alpena, MI 49707, USA (map). The cost is $3 museum entry fee. Museum members do not pay.

After the program, explore Besser Museum exhibits that highlight fisheries history and heritage, ecology and management, social-economic values and issues that have defined our northern Lake Huron coastal communities.

The program is organized by the Association of Lifelong Learners at Alpena Community College, a not-for-profit organization which sponsors, promotes and encourages lifelong educational and enrichment experiences for people of all ages in northeast Michigan.

Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trails Conference

Event Date: 9/12/2018
End Date: 9/13/2018

Travel to Beaver Island to explore online opportunities for expanding the heritage trail network across Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

By Brandon Schroeder

Poster describing Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Conference to be held on Beaver Island, Sept. 12-13, 2018.

The 2018 Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trails Conference heads to Beaver Island, Mich., for a heritage experience, and also conversation toward expanding fisheries heritage trail partnerships across Michigan and the Great Lakes region.

Beaver Island Historical Society in collaboration with Central Michigan University Biological StationMichigan Sea GrantMichigan State University Extension, and other network partners will host the annual conference Sept. 12-13, 2018. This conference is a great opportunity for networking, sharing information and resources, and gaining new ideas linking our valuable Great Lakes fisheries with historic preservation, heritage tourism, education, and other community development efforts.

Explore technology and online opportunities

Does your community you have a local fisheries business, maritime museum or historic site, fisheries exhibit or educational materials, or even fisheries events or experiences? Would you like to share your community’s fisheries heritage stories and opportunities in more accessible ways? This year’s conference will serve to unveil a new Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail website; and explore technology and online opportunities to better connect local fisheries heritage among Great Lakes-wide audiences. Participants will learn to archive, share and connect work in their local communities, museums, and libraries with others across the state.

Explore fisheries heritage and Great Lakes science

The networking picnic, which kicks off the conference festivities on Sept. 12, 2018, is always a highlight. We will take a tour of Beaver Island Historical Society’s maritime museum, which includes a wealth of fisheries heritage artifacts, images, and stories; along with a visit to the CMU Biological Station. The following day (Sept. 13, 2018) will feature an educational conference with presentations and discussion centered on promoting fisheries heritage in connection with tourism, historic preservation and Great Lakes education goals.

This two-day conference will offer:

  • Conference kick-offand networking reception at 1 p.m. Sept. 12, 2018, with an afternoon picnic (provided) and guided tours of fisheries heritage and Great Lakes science partners and programs on Beaver Island.
  • Business meeting for the Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Consortium (open to all) will be held following dinner on Sep. 12, 2018. Participants are invited to assist in planning for this statewide network. This Great Lakes fisheries network works to benefit local museum programs and the work of fisheries organizations, promote Great Lakes literacy, enhance coastal tourism development opportunities, foster educational connections, and support community development efforts.
  • Conference educational sessions begin 9 a.m. Sept. 13, 2018, in the James Gillingham Academic Center. Learn from panel presenters, and share your own ideas and experiences that can help bring fisheries heritage stories to life. Learn how to use a new Great Lakes Fisheries Heritage Trail website and resource in advancing your local work.

Register online to attend

  • Visit the conference website to register online. This educational program is open to all those interested in promoting maritime heritage tourism and Great Lakes stewardship. Please register by Friday, Sept. 7.
  • Registration is $50 ($30 for students) and includes picnic lunch and guided tours of Beaver Island on Sept. 12; and participation in educational conference sessions with lunch provided on Sept. 13.
  • Lodging is provided onsite at the CMU Biological Station for $76 (1 night) or $84 (2 nights) – payment and arrangements for lodging are included this year as part of registration process.
  • Travel to Beaver Island (from Charlevoix) includes ferry and flying options. Beaver Island Ferry runs on Sept. 12th (11:30 a.m. departure) and gets you to the Island on time for conference kick-off (NOTE: ferry returns on Sept. 14th – so those choosing ferry option should plan for an extra day). Flights are also available via Fresh Air Aviation and Island Airways.

For additional information about this educational program contact Brandon Schroeder, Michigan Sea Grant Extension (schroe45@msu.edu, 989-354-9885).

Videos address Lake Michigan fisheries management, prey fish, and mass marking

In case you missed the South Haven Fisheries Workshop, videos recap presentations on the state of Lake Michigan fisheries.

Videos address Lake Michigan fisheries management, prey fish, and mass marking

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.

The evening meeting featured a brief update on Sea Grant activities including the Huron-Michigan Diet Study and other citizen scienceprograms, followed by three presentations that are now available on the Michigan Sea Grant YouTube channel. The evening concluded with two presentations on cisco (similar to those offered at the Ludington workshop) and a short discussion on the topic of cisco management options.

The latest video presentations focus on recent developments in Lake Michigan fisheries management and the latest results from forage fish monitoring and mass marking.

Lake Michigan Management Plan

Jay Wesley, Lake Michigan Basin Coordinator with Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), discussed the DNR’s Lake Michigan Management Plan and the public process that accompanied development of the plan, which was approved in January.

Key elements of the plan include:

  • invasive species prevention
  • 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.

Head to Houghton for a Lake Superior Fisheries Workshop on April 30, 2018

Event Date: 4/30/2018

Presentations include updates on several important fish issues, public encouraged to attend and provide input.

flyer describes locations and dates for annual fishery workshops

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.

The workshop will be 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. April 30, 2018, at the Great Lakes Research Center at Michigan Technological University. The address 100 Phoenix Drive, Houghton, MI 49931. Parking is free after 4 p.m. at the adjacent lot 31.

Presentations (see agenda) this year will include:

  • Buffalo Reef and Stamp Sands Updates – MDEQ and Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
  • Coaster Brook Trout Population State – MI Tech Great Lakes Research Center
  • Lake Trout Status, Updates, and Isle Royale Populations – MDNR Fisheries Division
  • Ghost Nets – WI Sea Grant
  • Lake Superior Angler Creel Data –  MDNR Fisheries Division
  • MI Tech Great Lakes Research and Facility Tour – Great Lakes Research Center

The Lake Superior Fisheries Workshop is free and open to all interested participants. Registration is requested, but walk-ins are welcome. Register online.

Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to learn about what is happening with the Lake Superior Fisheries!

Town Hall on Aquatic Invasive Species

Event Date: 4/26/2018

University of Toledo/NOAA Research Team Host Town Hall on invasive species prevention in the Great Lakes

The public is invited to a town hall meeting 8 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at the WGTE studio, 1270 S. Detroit Ave. in Toledo, OH. 

The town-hall panel of experts includes representatives from the Toledo Zoo, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Maumee Bait and Tackle and Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. 

Rochelle Sturtevant, Great Lakes Aquatic Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS) Program Manager is a panelist.

Four years of fishing data from Salmon Ambassadors show trends for wild, stocked salmon catch

New report details results from information volunteer anglers provide.

Four years of fishing data from Salmon Ambassadors show trends for wild, stocked salmon catch.

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.

The Salmon Ambassadors program is a Michigan Sea Grant initiative developed in coordination with Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana Departments of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This program would not be possible without the effort of dedicated volunteers from organizations including Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association and Michigan Charter Boat Association. Special thanks go out to Detroit Area Steelheaders, who provided generous donations to support this program.