The success & future of Atlantic salmon rearing in Michigan

DNR fish stocking truck at LSSU lab picking up Atlantic salmonIt's not really a secret that Atlantic salmon are becoming a must-target species in Michigan. With that popularity has come efforts to rear and stock more of these fish, supported by an invaluable partnership between the Department of Natural Resources' Fisheries Division, Lake Superior State University (LSSU) and Cloverland Electric.

Fisheries Division has worked with LSSU for more than 30 years, particularly with Roger Greil, the manager for the university's Center for Freshwater Research and Education Fish Hatchery (CFRE) where Atlantic salmon have been reared since 1987.

"Roger is awesome," said Aaron Switzer, the DNR's Northern Lower Peninsula state fish hatchery manager. "I think the world of that guy, his fisheries knowledge when it comes to rearing Atlantic salmon is second-to-none."

Since 1987 the CFRE, and Roger, has reared and stocked more than 1 million yearling Atlantic salmon in the St. Marys River. This river is now considered a destination for world-class Atlantic salmon fishing. So, we at the DNR thought, why not take it further?

Roger has played a crucial role in the development of Michigan's Atlantic salmon rearing program - and in more than one way. Obviously, his knowledge of this specific species has provided plenty of information to work with as we've built and grown our program…but his educational connections to many current Fisheries Division staff is invaluable as well.

"I might be biased, but any student that's considering fisheries as a career should look closely at LSSU," Switzer shared. "Many of my classmates now work in the field."

Switzer explains the experiences LSSU's fisheries students gain from working at the CFRE, and subsequently Roger, are ideal for gaining hands-on knowledge and for building a relationship that last much longer than just during their time at school.

"I met Roger in college, but I still talk to him at least once a month - and have done so for the past 20 years."

The CFRE is located in a space within a Cloverland Electric power plan, located right on the St. Marys River, that was donated by the company to serve as a lab/hatchery facility. The hatchery's Atlantic salmon brood source is wild, collected from the river's spawning fish every fall.

"Any stocked Atlantic salmon you hear about in Michigan all come from this source," said Switzer. "That includes those from LSSU, the fish we rear at the Platte River State Fish Hatchery, and soon the fish we'll rear at the Harrietta State Fish Hatchery."

LSSU produces around 30,000 fish every year, and the DNR hopes to, between the two participating state fish hatcheries, eventually rear 180,000 Atlantic salmon to end up in Michigan's public waters.

"From my perspective, I think the success of our Atlantic salmon program is very dependent on our cooperative relationship with LSSU and the CFRE," Switzer explained. "Additionally, it's so nice to have a resource, like Roger, who I can call whenever I need to."