Salted with Sharks

DNR, Local Leaders Respond to Salmon Crisis: “Leave the Fish Alone”

In Green Elbertians, On and off the Apron, Open Season, Politics, Uncategorized on September 14, 2012 at 2:15 pm

By Emily Votruba

Historic low levels in Lake Michigan (the lowest since 1961) have caused extreme low water in Betsie Lake. Thousands of salmon are dead and dying as they try to breach the sandbars and get into Betsie River to spawn.

Beached salmon who never made it to spawn. Photo by Chip Marks, September 14, 2012.

Don Tanner, Benzie County commissioner and a licensed professional fishing guide, said by phone this afternoon that the word has come from Mark Tonello at the DNR’s Fisheries department that fishing at the mouth of the Betsie will be closed. But that order takes 21 days to take effect, time the spawning salmon don’t have. In the meantime, Tanner and Tonello are asking that people voluntarily avoid the area. Tanner said the presence of people standing in and near the salmon’s pathway to their spawning ground is “spooking” them off course. Not to mention the snagging and bagging that’s going on.

“Don’t go out there and harass the fish. Let them get up the river. From now until 21 days that will be voluntary. After that, DNR’s issuing a closure. I would encourage people to leave them alone. If you want to fish, let them get up a couple bends and settle down and fish them up there. Likely the fishery will remain open in the bottom end of the bay toward the pierhead. But at some point midbay the DNR will be drawing an imaginary line, and from there to the bridge you won’t be able to fish,” Tanner said. People caught fishing in the closed waters will receive tickets and fines.

Adrian Poulisse of the Benzie County Planning Commission, and Dennis Holcombe, Gilmore Planning Commission, have been urging residents to call Dan Benishek and Bill Huizenga to draw their attention to the potential salmon run failure. The Alert reported yesterday that several fishermen had begun a campaign to get the main channel dredged up to the M-22 bridge. There was even talk of volunteers showing up with shovels.

Poulisse said he would be on the bridge and in the Marina Park this afternoon, talking to fishermen and handing them cards with phone numbers for Benishek and Huizenga. “This is an immediate environmental crisis and will become an economic crisis for our area in a couple of years if something doesn’t happen fast,” said Poulisse. Poulisse recommended calling the DC rather than local offices of the two reps, to “concentrate” the phone calls. Poulisse said he’d spoken with Ray Franz yesterday.

Any dredging would require permits from the Army Corps and the EPA, a process which normally takes months—”certainly not in enough time to save this run of fish,” said Tanner. According to the DNR, “dredging is off the table,” said Tanner, who had discussed the matter with Mark Tonello today.

Tanner said according to Tonello there was a failed dredging effort several years ago at the mouth of the Little Manistee river. “Around 1998 they had the same problem. They went over there and dredged out a channel, did everything to fortify it, and the river whipped them in a day, between wave action and hydraulic action in the river—it filled right back in. What we need is more water. And I don’t know what to do about that.”

Tanner said the DNR recently announced a significant reduction in fish plantings in the area to rely more on natural reproduction. “The concern is that the forage out there [in Lake Michigan] is light and the fish are not as big and healthy as they should be. They’re coming back fairly stressed as it is. These are consequences of all the other things that are going on in our lake system. Now we’ve got this historic low lake level, and they’re having trouble getting up the river. But they can, and they will.

“But as soon as they see people standing in the water they freak out and beach themselves or go in directions they might not otherwise go. And there’s a lot of bushwhacking going on out there—people grabbing them, throwing them, chasing them. We just need to get the people out of there and let the fish do what the fish do.”

Congressman Dan Benishek’s DC office: (202) 225-4735

Senator Carl Levin: (202) 224-6221

Senator Debbie Stabenow:  (202) 224-4822

Congressman Bill Huizenga: (202) 225-4401

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