Indiana's chinook program lives.
That was a bit of good news coming out of Thursday's public meeting in Michigan City with the Department of Natural Resources.
"We will raise 60,000 chinook for stocking in 2017," Jeremy Price, the DNR's northern Indiana fisheries supervisor, said.
Earlier this summer, the DNR announced it would suspend stockings of chinook — the big lake's largest and most popular salmonid — due to on-going concerns the predator (chinook)/prey (alewife) balance in Lake Michigan was dangerously stacked against sustainability of the prey fish. According to the DNR, similar conditions led to the collapse of the Lake Huron salmon fishery a decade ago.
The 60,000 is still a major reduction from the Indiana quota of 200,000 in 2012, but it retains the opportunity, albeit slimmer, for Indiana shore anglers to tangle with a trophy fish.
Price explained the Lake Michigan Committee's decision was made just this week after further concessions from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reduce lake trout stockings. Lakers are another predator, albeit much less-loved by sportspeople.
"Lake trout, which have been stocked at an average of 3.19 million over the last five years, will be cut to 2.54 million," Price, who also sits on the four-state plus tribal representative Lake Michigan Committee, said.
Those lake trout figures are in something called "yearling equivalents," and the reduction will essentially double the impact of a previously announced cut of 550,000 fall fingerlings. Discussion of additional laker cuts are ongoing. This round will eliminate secondary stocking sites in the southern part of the lake, including Michigan City and New Buffalo. Traditional mid-lake stocking sites will see a 50 percent reduction. Northern treaty waters will be untouched.
Price also mentioned Indiana will begin the process to increase the lake trout limit from two to three.
Price, along with biologist Ben Dickinson, who did most of the outstanding data presentation, emphasized the goal of the predator reductions is to save the alewives, which are at 50-year lows.
And both reiterated many times if alewife populations recover, chinook stocking could be increased.
"We think these stocking reductions are sufficient," Price said. "We want to err on the side of caution — the alternative [maintaining past levels] risks collapsing the system."
Two primary takeaways from the presentation is the ecosystem has become tremendously less productive since quagga mussels have become established and naturally produced chinook contribute 70 percent of chinook caught by trollers.
The best answer to a question was "we believe if we build it, they will come," by Price in response to concern of declining interest and trout/salmon stamp sales. There were fewer than 30 sportspeople at the meeting where I suspect 300 would have attended 10 years ago if a suspension of chinook stockings was being discussed.
I really like the we're-going-to-get-it-back and get-it-right attitude.
Biggest non-answer flub was not having an estimate of lake trout biomass or how many lake trout are in the lake. Seriously? There were figures on how many minnows and how much phytoplankton there is in the lake, but not how many of what anglers presume are the most-numerous predator in the lake.
Most of all it was great the entire DNR staff was willing to meet and share information with anyone who was willing to listen.