Four years of fishing data from Salmon Ambassadors show trends for wild, stocked salmon catch

New report details results from information volunteer anglers provide.

Anglers are keen observers of the aquatic environment. The Salmon Ambassadors program provides Lake Michigan and Lake Huron anglers with a way to share their observations on wild and stocked salmon. Thanks to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes Mass Marking Program, Chinook salmon stocked in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron have been marked with an adipose clip since 2011. This means that anglers can identify stocked fish by looking for a clipped adipose fin. The contribution of wild fish to the catch (% Wild) can then be calculated.

Volunteers with the Salmon Ambassadors program measured each and every Chinook salmon caught during the course of the fishing season and checked for fin clips. At the end of each season, volunteers provided their data to Michigan Sea Grant along with answering a few questions about their season. Since 2014, 81 volunteers have provided a complete data set for at least one season.

A new fact sheet details results from the past four years. Here are a few highlights:

  • Volunteers provided useful data on 8,474 Chinook salmon.
  • Fishing satisfaction has been on the rise since 2015.
  • % Wild was consistently higher in Michigan than in Wisconsin.
  • % Wild increased each month from May to September in northern Michigan ports on Lake Michigan due to the return of wild fish to natal streams.
  • In southern Wisconsin and northern Lake Huron, % Wild was lowest in September due to the return of mature stocked fish to stocking sites.
  • Southern Michigan ports did not seem to benefit from a large run of mature stocked fish in September, as we had originally expected.

In 2013, a 46 percent reduction in Lake Michigan stocking and a corresponding 84 percent drop in natural reproduction (according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) made for a very weak year-class. This translated into tough fishing in 2015 and 2016, when these fish would have been two and three years old, respectively. Salmon Ambassadors saw big changes in the size structure of their catches as a result. Although anglers felt the pain of tough salmon fishing, the reduction in predation was important for improving predator-prey balance and preventing the collapse of the alewife population.

The Salmon Ambassadors program is a Michigan Sea Grant initiative developed in coordination with Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana Departments of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This program would not be possible without the effort of dedicated volunteers from organizations including Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association and Michigan Charter Boat Association. Special thanks go out to Detroit Area Steelheaders, who provided generous donations to support this program.

Michigan Sea Grant helps to foster economic growth and protect Michigan’s coastal, Great Lakes resources through education, research and outreach. A collaborative effort of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University and its MSU Extension, Michigan Sea Grant is part of the NOAA-National Sea Grant network of 33 university-based programs.


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