All manner of salmon, both Pacific and Atlantic varieties, have made their home in the Great Lakes. Today, many anglers prize Chinook salmon above the others for their large size — it’s not uncommon to find individuals nearing the 30-pound mark — and tasty meat. But these fish have a checkered history in many of the region’s waterways.
When Chinook salmon were first introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1870s, they failed to reproduce and soon disappeared from the lakes. Just short of a century later, the Great Lakes suffered an invasion of alewives and rainbow smelt, species that thrived in the lakes’ algae-rich environments. At their peak, these invaders made up 90 percent of the Great Lakes’ biomass.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reintroduced Chinook to the lakes to combat the invasive species, and were met with great success. This month, the Michigan DNR is conducting a fin-clipping program to evaluate the success of the Chinook fishery in Lake Superior. The program will help determine return rates for stocked Chinook, as well as pinpoint where most of the fish are being caught. Last year’s survey found that wild, naturally reproducing Chinook salmon accounted for between 92 and 100 percent of all catches.
Program officials will clip the adipose fin of Chinook salmon stocked in Lake Superior near the Black, Ontonagon, Dead and Carp Rivers. Creel clerks working at key fishing spots will also survey anglers and document their catches. The program is part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mass marking project that has clipped more than 1.1 million Chinook salmon since its beginning in 2012.