DNR stocks TB River with Atlantic Salmon

ALPENA – In an effort to establish a better Atlantic salmon fishery in Lake Huron, the Department of Natural Resources stocked some of the fish Wednesday in the Thunder Bay River.

Alpena will get 20,000 yearling fish as part of an experiment aimed at seeing how well the fish will do in Lake Huron, Jim Johnson, DNR fisheries research biologist, said. He and others working on the project are hoping to build on the success enjoyed by another group working with Atlantics at Lake Superior State University. There, the fish have been raised, 30,000 at a time, as a classroom learning project. Since they’re able to raise them in the St. Mary’s River without ever moving them from the water, they’re seeing good survival rates and a solid fishery as a result.

Johnson is hoping that by planting the salmon in the Thunder Bay River, the fish will return there to spawn, he said. Unlike other fish, which spawn in the spring or fall, Atlantics will return during the summer, likely around July. While they won’t be able to get into the river – the water will be too warm – they should be able to find cool water in the bay itself.

“The thing that’s interesting is, in July, we have our Brown Trout Festival,” he said, adding that anglers might have trouble telling them apart from brown trout.

Atlantic salmon show promise for Lake Huron because they seem to do better without the presence of alewives as forage, unlike other salmon species, Johnson said. They also do better than other stocked species. The number of fish caught versus fish stocked is almost twice as good as steelhead, as rainbow trout that live in the Great Lakes are called, and they do much better than brown trout or Chinook salmon.

Alpena is one of four stocking locations on Lake Huron where biologists will be planting Atlantic salmon, Johnson said. They’ll be planting 30,000 into the Au Sable River, up to 15,000 in Lexington, and as many as 100,000 in the St. Mary’s River. It’s the first time Atlantics have been planted at Alpena.

Biologists are hopeful that Atlantic salmon will survive better away from the St. Mary’s River, which now has more parasitic sea lampreys than ever before, Johnson said. The invasive species is having drastic impacts on Atlantics there, along with other fish species.

“We call the St. Mary’s River the sea lamprey lunch counter,” he said.

Between enhancing Lake Huron’s steelhead and Atlantic salmon fisheries, biologists are hoping to bring back some of the excitement back from before the collapse of alewife populations in Lake Huron, Johnson said. At one time, anglers had a direct economic impact of about $1 million per port. Because of the disappearance of sport fish like Chinook salmon after the alewives disappeared, Lake Huron has priority for Atlantic salmon stocking.

“Lake Michigan won’t get any Atlantic salmon allocated while this experiment is going on,” he said.

It’ll take two years for the stocked fish to mature, Johnson said. Anglers have a diverse fishery at their disposal in the meantime, including solid catch rates for steelhead, walleye and the accidentally introduced pink salmon. Once the Atlantics mature and start biting, anglers can expect a thrilling time landing the fish.

“On hook and line, I don’t think there’s a fish that fights harder in fresh water,” he said.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.