2017-05-04 / Front Page

Lake Huron Fishery Sees Adaptations

By Stephen King

The goby has become one of the main small prey fish in Lake Huron, and while lake trout have no trouble eating them, salmon have not adapted as well to the change in diet. This is one reason lake trout populations have gained the upper hand and are thriving in Lake Huron, leading fisheries biologists to cut back on stocking the fish, as well as potentially altering allowable catches on the lakes. An audience of about 50 people learned more about that and other changes in the lake at the Lake Huron Fisheries Workshop in Cedarville Thursday evening, April 27.

There, fisheries biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as well as from the Michigan Sea Grant program, which is part of the National Sea Grant program, presented data and took questions from area residents. This program is held each year at four locations on Lake Huron. The purpose is both to disseminate information to the public and take input.

Todd Willis, a fisheries research biologist, spoke about the current status of the off-shore fishery and the ongoing changes, including a decline in the population of many species of salmon and the corresponding rise in the lake trout population. The alewives, he said, have pretty much died off. In their place, the goby has become one of the main small prey fish in Lake Huron. Lake trout have adapted well to the dietary change. In addition, the alewives contained an enzyme that inhibited lake trout reproduction. Now, since they are not eating alewives, the natural production of lake trout in Lake Huron has increased tremendously. The DNR is no longer trying to rehabilitate lake trout and that they are looking at substantially cutting back on the planting of lake trout. They are now actually looking at managing lake trout.

Populations of smelt are way down from where they were in their peak, in the 1960s and 1970s. There are still a fair amount of smelt out in the lake, but they are not coming in to spawn. Perhaps as many as 80% of the smelt in the lakes come from fish that actually spawn out in the lake, and do not come into the streams. This is why many fish, such as trout, can still be found with large amounts of smelt in their stomachs, while few are found in the creeks and rivers in the spring.

According to both Mr. Willis and DNR biologist Randy Claramunt, the numbers of lake trout sportsmen may take may actually have to be reduced. This is due to the Consent Agreement made with area tribes in 2000. This agreement gave certain “total allowable catch” numbers for both tribal and sports fishermen. At the time, however, the populations of trout and other species were much different.

The DNR biologists said that this is not only causing concerns with sports fishermen, but tribal commercial harvesters, as well. They said that about two years ago, the tribal commercial fishery had to be shut down weeks early because the total allowable catch for the year had been reached. At the Cedarville meeting, they noted the problems with resetting the allowable catches to more correctly reflect the current lake conditions, namely, reopening negotiations with the tribes. With the current agreement set to expire in 2020, there is a question whether such negotiations could actually be done before the current agreement expires. On this, there were no good answers, only an unusual problem: lots of lake trout.

Managing cormorants is a topic of strong concern at Les Cheneaux. While reducing their populations through a Federal Public Resource Depredation Order (PRDO) was effective, allowing fish populations to rebound, a federal court case ended the PRDO about a year ago. Since that time, cormorant control has been severely limited. Control methods have to be non-lethal and are limited to harassment. Even the oiling of eggs is now prohibited.

At this meeting, USDA Wildlife Services biologist Tony Aderman led a discussion at which most of the local citizens at the meeting expressed sincere concerns. The biologists agreed with them, but said without the PRDO, their hands are tied. There is very little the Michigan DNR can do. This issue, they said, requires federal intervention.

An aide with U.S. Congressman Jack Bergman was in attendance and said Rep. Bergman is aware of the issue and is working on a solution. Mr. Bergman was scheduled to have a meeting with the Department of the Interior secretary that day on this very subject, however, it was later learned from his Washington office that the meeting did not take place. Congressman Bergman was still working on setting up a meeting with the secretary.

A statement from Congressman Bergman’s office said, “We have been hearing about cormorant issues quite often and our office is taking steps to address the problem…We are looking at options for effective control of this population so that they stop wreaking havoc on our Great Lakes fisheries.”

The fishery of the entire Les Cheneaux Islands area, particularly the perch population, was discussed, including such topics as creel limits, with perhaps a limit of 25 fish per day suggested. There were both proponents and opposition to this idea. Those opposed suggested that there are very few times of the year when those numbers are reached. Those in favor suggested the lower number would benefit the resource.

The perch in this area have rebounded tremendously, but the number of fishermen coming to this area to fish perch has not rebounded.

The biologists said that the perch are here, and said that getting the fishermen back is another matter, perhaps one of public perception.

The DNR is seeking the help of sports fishermen this year. They are gathering information about the diet of various species of fish in Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, such as salmon, lake trout, pike, and others. They are asking that anglers record date from the various species and share that data with the DNR. They are also asking the fishermen take the stomachs from fish caught in these waters and bring them in. They ask that the stomachs be stored in plastic bags and frozen. Locally, the fish stomachs can be brought into the office in DeTour. More information can be found about this by e-mailing GLanglerdiary@gmail.com

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