The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has announced a plan to increase Chinook salmon stocking in Indiana’s Lake Michigan waters.
The new interim plan comes in response to a recent Lake Michigan Committee recommendation to increase lakewide stocking levels.
“Lakewide data indicates the predator-prey balance in the lake has improved,” said Jeremy Price, DNR fisheries supervisor and Indiana’s LMC representative, “and the size of the salmon out there certainly supports it.”
Beginning in 2020, Indiana’s stocking quota will increase by nearly 87,000 Chinook salmon equivalents. Chinook salmon equivalents are conversions fishery managers use to evaluate the impacts of different salmonid species on prey fish populations.
The new stocking quota adds back about half of the cuts made in 2017 when DNR managers reduced Chinook salmon and eliminated lake trout stockings from Indiana waters.
DNR plans to increase Chinook stocking by 150,000 fish in 2020, a move made possible through the increase in stocking quota and additional reductions to stockings of steelhead and coho salmon.
Fall fingerling Skamania steelhead will be discontinued on the Little Calumet River and substantial cuts to fall fingerling Coho stockings will be replaced with fewer, but larger, spring coho yearlings. Similar changes on the St. Joseph River enacted in 2015 have proven extremely successful at increasing salmon returns.
“The new plan gets us back to stocking Chinooks annually at all three of our ports,” said Ben Dickinson, DNR biologist for Lake Michigan. “When we cut Chinook stocking in 2017, we promised our anglers that we’d try our best to get back to three ports annually. Today we are pleased to deliver on that promise.”
City of Elkhart aquatic biologist Daragh Deegan said anglers who enjoy the St. Joseph River will likely notice the difference from the Chinook restocking until the fall of 2022.
“Migratory Lake Michigan salmon and steelhead can make it all the way to the Twin Branch Dam in Mishawaka from Lake Michigan after navigating past numerous dams that have salmon ladders on them,” he said.
However, they are stopped at the Twin Branch Dam, which does not have a ladder.
“While the fish do not get into Elkhart, it’s very safe to assume that many residents from Elkhart and beyond are drawn to the South Bend/Mishawaka area to fish for salmon and steelhead,” Deegan said.
Some hatchery logistics still need to be resolved, according to the DNR, but the plan is mostly set for 2020. Price and Dickinson intend to take input from anglers on the plan through one or more public meetings this winter.
“We think most anglers will really like this strategy,” Price said, “but we want to give folks an opportunity to tell us what they think before making this the stocking plan for 2021 and beyond.”
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