For Immediate Release
Contact: Marc Gaden
April 8, 1996
A major victory in efforts to restore lake trout in Lake Superior was declared during a recent meeting of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's Lake Superior Committee in Duluth, Minnesota. The Committee--made up of fishery managers from the three Great Lakes States which border Lake Superior, from the Province of Ontario, and from U.S. Tribes represented by the Chippewa-Ottawa Treaty Fishery Management Authority (COTFMA) and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC)--agreed that lake trout stocking programs, along with a coordinated effort of sea lamprey control, limits on sport and commercial fishing, and water quality protection and enhancements, has allowed lake trout to again become self-sustaining in areas of Lake Superior. With the return of self-sustainable lake trout populations, state, federal, provincial, and tribal management authorities have decided to eliminate stocking of federally-reared lake trout in areas of the lake extending from the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin eastward to Grand Marias, Michigan. Similarly, a number of areas in Ontario waters have shown improvements in lake trout populations such that stocking has been reduced to about a third of what is was in the 1980s.
Currently, Lake Superior is the only lake in which lake trout populations are self-sustaining. According to a recent report by Dr. Michael Hansen of the National Biological Service, in some areas of Lake Superior, populations are up to 80% of those that occurred before the sea lamprey invaded and lake trout populations crashed. The ultimate goal of the Lake Superior Committee, as reported in the 1990 Lake Superior fish community objectives "is to restore self-sustaining stocks that can provide an average annual yield equal to that attained during 1929-1943 [the period prior to decline]."
Lake trout restoration efforts began in Lake Superior in the 1950s-- coincidental with the beginning of sea lamprey control--and managers spread their efforts to the other Great Lakes during the ensuing decades. Since the 1950s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, and more recently the Keweenaw Bay Tribe, have been trying to increase lake trout populations through stocking. The Great Lakes Fishery Commission was created by Canada and the United States and has complimented these efforts by controlling sea lampreys and by coordinating fishery research and management on a binational level.
The return of self-sustaining lake trout populations is a major victory for the Great Lakes fishery because naturally occurring lake trout once supported a major commercial and a small sport fishery in the Great Lakes. Anglers came from far and wide to catch Great Lakes lake trout, and commercial fishermen sent millions of them to restaurants and packing houses annually, supplying the region and the world with some of the best fish available. In the middle part of this century, however, the species experienced the unthinkable: near extirpation in the Great Lakes. Overfishing and sea lamprey predation caused such devastation to lake trout stocks that harvesting in the Great Lakes fell from about 17 million pounds annually to almost nothing. The lake trout, once the king of the fishery, fell so quickly in numbers that many questioned whether the species, let alone the fishery, could survive.
"The recovery of lake trout in Lake Superior is indicative of what is possible in the other lakes," said Lake Superior Committee Chairman Bill Horns of the Wisconsin DNR. "This achievement gives us renewed hope for ongoing lake trout restoration efforts in the lower lakes."
"This is a sterling example of a cooperative effort between federal, state, and provincial agencies, and tribal governments," said John Robertson, Chief of Fisheries, Michigan DNR, "to be able to claim such a victory on the road toward a complete rehabilitation of the lake trout in Lake Superior and elsewhere in the Great Lakes."
In other areas of Lake Superior--such as Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and lower Keweenaw Bay waters-- stocking will continue because natural reproduction has not yet taken hold at a level that would likely allow self-sustainability. In these areas, state or tribally-reared fish will continue to be stocked. Management agencies will continue to monitor the lake trout fishery, and, perhaps, one day find it unnecessary to stock any lake trout in Lake Superior.
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