Efforts to reestablish lake trout in Lake Michigan are getting a boost. Agencies that manage the fishery have agreed to increase the number of fish planted in the lake by about 25 percent to 3.5 million fish.
Lake trout were once the top predator in the Great Lakes food chain. Sea lamprey wiped them out in the middle of the last century and efforts to restore the fish have been almost a total failure in Lake Michigan. Lake trout are not the most popular sport fish. That's salmon. And whitefish are the most prized seafood in the lake. But the lake manager for the Michigan DNR, Jim Dexter, says lake trout are important.
"Lake trout were the keystone predator in the lake," says Dexter. "They should be a large component of a diverse, multi-species sport fishery."
The new stocking plan calls for a large increase in the number of lake trout planted around Beaver Island. Shoals in that area are considered among the best breeding grounds in Lake Michigan.
Not everyone is convinced putting more fish in better locations in the lake will change anything. Tom Gorenflo directs the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, an intertribal fishing agency. Gorenflo thinks it might take more to overcome the problems with the ecosystem caused by invasive species in Lake Michigan.
"We've always felt there's more to this than simply building up a large adult population," says Gorenflo.
One of the problems for lake trout is a little feeder fish in Lake Michigan called alewife. It was one of the first invaders to get into the Great Lakes. When a lake trout eat alewives it causes a nutrient deficiency that impedes the trout's ability to reproduce. Lake trout are recovering in Lake Huron after alewives disappeared from that lake beginning around 2002.
But alewife are an important source of food for salmon, and the salmon fishery is big business up and down the coast of Lake Michigan. Any suggestion to reduce the alewife population would be met with opposition.