Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lake Huron Salmon Population Crashes, DNR in Retreat

It's like I've been saying, the Great Lakes are now a managed ecosystem. There's no possibility of ever returning the lake to the natural state they were in for most of ten thousand years.

The best we can hope to do is make it something we want, and protect some of the native inhabitants. The Great Lakes Fisheries Commission and other state natural resource management groups have been walking that very thin tightrope. But it's an unstable balancing act, which is yet another reason we need to reduce outside influences and factors such as invasive species.

Invasive species tipped the balance in Lake Huron to the point that an entire fishing industry has collapsed, bringing livelihoods and entire towns down with it. Chinook salmon populations have declined dramatically due to a bottom level disturbance in the food chain from invasive zebra and quagga mussels, and they have not responded to attempts at resuscitation.

The DNR is now talking about retreat in Lake Huron as far as chinook salmon is concerned and have conceded that stocking Lake Huron with that top predator is no longer a viable option.

Michigan's Department of Natural Resources still plants more than 1 million king salmon — also known as chinook salmon — into the lake each year. Most are eaten by other fish well before they reach fighting size.
This year, the state acknowledged its Lake Huron salmon-stocking program is no longer working.

department is proposing eliminating seven of nine planting locations, reducing annual chinook stocks to 730,000 and undertaking studies to determine if another high-profile predator could restore Lake Huron to its former fishing glory.

The final decision on stocking is due in October.

From The Detroit News:

The impact of the collapse on small towns in West Michigan has been enormous...

"This place used to have a waiting list to get a slip," said Noble, 75. "Now there's five boats. At one time, there were 19 or 20 charter boats in this town. Now there is one. This town is dead. We don't even have a grocery store. … And it's not the economy. It's the fishery."
Just a decade ago, that fishery was ruled by king salmon. From Lexington in the south to the Straits of Mackinac, charter captains charged eager anglers hundreds of dollars to catch hard-fighting, great-tasting kings until coolers were brimming with fish.
Today, southern Lake Huron is virtually devoid of king salmon, thanks to food web changes wrought by invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels.

It's estimated that a new, potentially viable invasive species enters the Great Lakes EVERY EIGHT MONTHS. At an infection rate like that, there's simply no way Great Lakes fisheries management can keep up with the adaptations needed to manage the lakes and keep them in some semblance of balance.

Obviously we can't keep invasive species out 100% forever. But we CAN slow down the rate at which new invasive species are entering the lakes and give some time for the ecosystem and the fisheries to adapt.

Turning to the West, now...the pace of progress in dealing with the threat of the Asian carps is irresponsibly slow. While we watch the Lake Huron fisheries crumble, we're taking an agonizingly long time to address a similar collapse in Lake Michigan due to an Asian carp invasion.

Cutting off the the un-natural connection between the Great Lakes water basin and the Mississippi water basin is the only long term defense for both systems.

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