Egg harvest bouncing back: DNR reports ‘successful’ season at Little Manistee River Weir

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STRONACH — Now two years removed from a record-low salmon run, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ annual egg harvest continues to yield bounce-back numbers this season at the Little Manistee River Weir.

According to technician supervisor Joe Mickevich, the team of DNR employees bustling around the Stronach facility on Wednesday were pleased with this week’s egg-take results.

“It’s been a successful year,” he said. “We’re seeing a few more Chinook than we did last year and certainly more than we did the year before.

“The run has had a lot of steelhead and a lot of coho, which is not real surprising because we’ve been seeing a lot in all the rivers this year,” he added. “In a nutshell, things are going really well.”

Salmon from the Pacific Ocean were introduced to the Great Lakes in the mid-1960s, primarily to crop down on alewives and keep the predator-prey balance in Michigan’s waters healthy. Collaterally, the state has become one of the country’s primary sport fishery destinations.

The annual harvest and restocking program has also become a local attraction for the public, as the DNR welcomes area schools and organizations to take tours of the facility during the process.

“The gist of the Little Manistee Weir is to block migrating fish up the river,” Mickevich said. “We divert those fish into our ponds, where we hold them until they get to a ripe enough stage where we can take their gametes — the eggs and the milt (seminal fluid) — fertilize and send them to the hatchery to raise and restock for next year.

“We’re also passing steelhead, brown trout and coho salmon up river.”

Wednesday was the third collection day of the season at the local weir, and a reported 1,231 Chinook salmon have been spawned in total. Mickevich said each female fish produces nearly 4,700 eggs.

This year’s run has also seen 1,259 coho salmon, 268 steelhead and 21 brown trout come through the facility.

A late salmon run in 2015 produced a record-low 654 salmon at the Little Manistee River Weir, according to Mickevich. That production was more than doubled in each of the last two seasons.

“We had a couple really cold winters a few years back, so those small fish, or young salmon, that smolt out to the lake or the river probably didn’t have a lot to eat those years,” Mickevich explained. “The lake was freezing over entirely and it took a little longer to warm up. Typically, these young fish that are coming into the system in the spring need the smaller part of the food chain to survive, so more than likely there was poor survival those couple of years.

“Things are turning around now because of the couple mild winters we’ve had,” he added. “That means warmer water in the spring, which is better for the fish and of course better for what we’re doing here.”

While the fish count at the local weir continues to trend upward, Mickevich said the yield is still shy of average numbers over the past decade or so.

“The returns are still pretty low,” he said. “We’re in the midst right now of trying to bump the numbers back up in this river. Hopefully in a few years we’ll start seeing some bigger growth.”

The DNR is planning to take eggs again on Oct. 18. Officials remind residents that the Little Manistee River is always closed to fishing within 300 feet upstream or downstream of the weir.

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Posted by Dylan Savela

Dylan is the county reporter for the News Advocate, he also is in charge of the Small Town Life, religion and senior pages. He can be reached at (231) 398-3111 or dsavela@pioneergroup.com.

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