Efforts to track sea lampreys; survival for Chinook salmon

ROGERS CITY – Hammond Bay Area Anglers Association’s annual banquet attendees learned of a new effort to track invasive sea lampreys, and about efforts to increase the odds of survival for stocked Chinook salmon.

U.S. Geological Survey Research Ecologist Nicholas Johnson told everyone who came to the Rogers City Senior and Community Center for the banquet Saturday about his work at the nearby Hammond Bay Biological Station. He and other researchers are working on ways to more efficiently kill fish-destroying sea lampreys.

The biological station was formerly a U.S. Coast Guard life saving station, and was converted into a research lab in the 1950s to research sea lamprey control, Johnson said. Dr. Vernon Applegate, the station’s first researcher, characterized the lamprey’s life cycle and developed the first lamprey barriers and lampricides.

“A lot of people have said the discoveries at Hammond Bay have changed the lake for the good,” he said.

Now, researchers are using two dual-frequency identification sonar cameras to track lampreys as they enter the Cheboygan and Ocqueoc rivers, Johnson said. The technology was developed over 20 years ago by the military to be used for underwater surveillance and search and rescue. HBBS staff obtained access to two of them, and they hope to find out if they can be used to track lampreys. If so, they want to know when they’re entering the river. Their findings could help them develop better lamprey traps.

HBBS staff are also studying other fish, including walleye, Johnson said. He showed some results of an acoustic telemetry study by Todd Hayden, where researchers caught 200 walleye in the Tittabawassee river. After implanting acoustic tags in the fish, they let them go and tracked their movements using sensors put around Lake Huron.

“This study was developed because the walleye fishery in Lake Huron is really valuable and seems to have expanded,” he said.

The results showed that fish leaving Saginaw Bay in April were reaching Cheboygan by May, and returning in the winter to spawn in the Saginaw River, Johnson said. A few hung around Thunder Bay for the winter. He told the audience not to overlook walleye fishing in Northern Lake Huron.

HBAAA member Frank Krist told the audience Chinook salmon are doing better since the mid-2000s, and anglers are catching fatter fish. Last fall, the Swan River saw the best salmon run in nine years. Chinooks are benefiting from more natural reproduction, and they’re starting to adapt to changes in the lake’s food web.

Krist also told the audience about positive results from HBAAA’s pushing the state to stock salmon in Swan River at a later date. They had been stocking them right when Swan Bay was typically full of lake trout. He showed pictures of the contents of two lake trout he caught in the bay in mid-May. They had both eaten dozens of salmon fingerlings. HBAAA Secretary Stephen Shafto said they pushed the state to move stocking back because as Lake Huron warms up, lake trout move out of the bay into deeper water.

Anglers can expect to see more Atlantic salmon in the coming years, Krist said. The state stocked 100,000 last year. He showed a picture of three 18- to 20-inch Atlantics caught through the ice at the mouth of the Thunder Bay River.

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.