Outdoors: We deserve better

Mark Marz of Michigan City poses with one of several chinook caught trolling within one-half mile of the Lighthouse on Wednesday. Chinook will become rarer around here in the future with Indiana's plan to eliminate chinook stocking starting in 2017. A public meeting with the DNR to discuss chinook cuts is set for 7 p.m., next Wednesday (Aug. 10) at the Skwiat American Legion Post, 121 Skwiat Legion Ave., in Michigan City.

Seems the Department of Natural Resources has out-lasted most of its' critics.

That's the short answer to the lack of angler uproar over Indiana's decision to suspend chinook stocking beginning in 2017.

A once-great chinook fishery, the sole reason thousands of anglers flocked to the local shores of Lake Michigan in September and October, has declined so precipitously over the years, there simply aren't many fishermen left to complain.

A public meeting to explain the chinook cuts is set for 7 p.m., on Wednesday, Aug. 10 at 121 Skwiat Legion Ave., Michigan City.

If you care about your fishery, be there. It is an opportunity to interact directly with your fishery managers.

Last year, a similar public forum provided a ton of information on chinook as well as the status of the entire Lake Michigan ecosystem.

The decision to reduce chinook is complex and a product of a 2012 lake-wide agreement to slash stockings in order to save the alewife/baitfish population (and inherently salmon) from collapse. Indiana's share of chinook, being the one-percenters (share of Lake Michigan) will become negligible.

Historical reference is at one point in the 1980s, there were eight million chinook stocked annually by the four states with Indiana topping 500,000. In 2017, the lake-wide stocking agreement is a paltry 690,000 with Indiana's share pegged at 45,000.

According to the IDNR, that is hardly enough to justify continuing its own chinook program given the issues of poor returns and obtaining eggs from other states. Indiana will "replace" chinook with additional Skamania steelhead, which provide a much better catch rate among Indiana anglers.

Again it's a lot more complicated than simple over-stocking, but this is something, perhaps the only thing, managers can manipulate.

Fact is Lake Michigan isn't as fertile as it once was, due primarily to trillions of invasive mussels sucking life out of the bottom of the food chain.

Additional pressure on baitfish populations, which are at all-time lows, come from huge numbers of naturally-spawned chinook, as well as all the other predators, particularly lake trout, which many anglers believe have been equally over-stocked.

Still, the DNR could do better. Fishermen deserve better.

I wish they would keep stocking chinook for diversity sake. Even if it meant rotating the 45,000 among the current trio of stocking sites. Burly chinook, many of which will end up weighing 20 to 30 pounds this year, have their niche in the fall, especially for shore-bound anglers.

Even with poor return rates, shore guys at least have a shot at a true Lake Michigan trophy. That chance will disappear a couple years down the road when the 2017 elimination of chinook stockings kick in.

With evacuated hatchery space available, why not try for something spectacular?

Perhaps simply spawning the biggest Skamania males exclusively with the biggest females (sort of the way nature intended) and giving them premium care could produce some extraordinary steelies. The current Skamania stock certainly isn't what it use to be.

Or unleash the "mad scientist" within our biologists. They're sharp, well-trained and certain to have some great ideas if their boss's would turn them loose.

A lackluster plan of less this and more of the same old isn't doing anyone much good. Unless, of course, the goal is to outlast the critics.

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