Chesterton Tribune



USFW eyes ciscoes for reintroduction to Lake Michigan

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A once native species may be restored in Lake Michigan, and the economic output of the region’s fishing industry exceeds $22 million.

Those were the takeaways from the annual Lake Michigan Fisheries Workshop at the Hammond Marina earlier this month.

Dr. Mitchell Zischke of Purdue University introduced speakers for an evening of research funded by the Indiana-Illinois Sea Grant (region boaters may recognize the new weather buoy in the Michigan City marina as a Sea Grant project). Zischke said part of the work done under the Sea Grant, which has created a partnership between Purdue University and the University of Illinois, is intended to bring together anglers, scientists, and local wildlife managers. He also noted that fisherman and the groups they belong to can use the new research to lobby politicians for better public access or conservation efforts.


Chuck Bronte of U.S. Fish & Wildlife delivered a presentation on the results of a ciscoe study on the Great Lakes. A forage fish for predators, ciscoes are a member of the whitefish family and reach a maximum size of 12 or 13 inches when at high density. When populations are lower, they can reach 15 or 20 inches.

Ciscoes--a migratory fish that prefers deep water far offshore--are still present in Lake Superior but have all but disappeared from Lakes Erie and Ontario, while their population is critically low in Southern Lake Michigan. That means, according to Bronte, that the ciscoe meets the criteria for successful reintroduction of the species. Making the environment ideal for reintroduction are a reduction in commercial fishing, the decline of other forage fish, the presence of spawning habitat, and more than adequate food sources.

A stocking program would likely sample remnant populations in the Great Lakes to create a brood stock that is closely related to the native populations of the past. The goals would be to achieve natural reproduction of ciscoes and provide a food source for predators.

Lake Michigan anglers may be interested to know that ciscoes, also called chubs, could provide a better forage base for chinook salmon following the decline of the invasive alewife. They’re not likely to compete with lake perch for food because the two species inhabit different parts of the water column and the lake itself. Lake trout could also bounce back with the restoration of native ciscoe populations.

Bronte reported that Lake Superior is the only stronghold for several subspecies of ciscoes, where they make up 30 percent of the average chinook salmon’s diet. They were also a main food source for Lake Michigan lake trout before the introduction of alewives and rainbow smelt.

Economics of Region Fishing

Elizabeth Golebie of the University of Illinois presented her findings on the economic impact of the fishing industry in the Region. Her research drew information from creel surveys and follow-up surveys about the costs of fishing. Participants were separated into groups based on whether they tended to fish from shore or boats, and asked about how much they spend on the costs of travel, parking, bait, and boating. Golebie and her team then used economic analysis software to estimate how many jobs are sustained by the local fishing industry and how much output it produces.

The results indicate that recreational fishing sustains 231 jobs in NWI and the Chicago area, and creates an output of $22 million dollars. Surprisingly, shore anglers tended to spend more money on tackle than boaters.

Anglers in the audience told Golebie their main concern is the decline of small bait shops and fishing charters and the loss of shore access. They also pointed out that creel surveys are usually taken between March and October, and fisherman in the region stay active throughout the winter chasing perch and steelhead trout.

Golebie was glad to have the feedback and said those are concerns she could account for in future research.



Posted 11/28/2017




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