ALPENA - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's stocking boat will make its final trip of the year from Alpena today, weather permitting.
The Spencer F. Baird returned to Alpena this week after making three trips out of Harbor Beach. First Officer Keith Duffton said Thursday's was the boat's third trip out of Alpena to stock lake trout in Lake Huron, and it could make one more today.
"We typically take out 100,000 to 120,000 per trip," he said, adding about a half-million fingerlings will be stocked near Thunder Bay this year.
Families and other bystanders came out to watch Thursday morning as the Baird loaded up with three truckloads of lake trout fingerlings. The fish were raised at the Jordan River National Fish Hatchery, and the trucks brought 145,000 fish, hatchery Fisheries biologist John Johnston said.
Fisheries biologist Paul Hauer and Assistant Engineer Keith Colborn explained to one family how each fish has a clipped fin to indicate it was hatchery-raised. Colborn showed them a few of the fingerlings that fell from the truck while moving the pipe from one tank on the boat to the next.
Once loaded, the Baird headed to Thunder Bay's South Point, where it released the fish in 100- to 200-foot-deep waters, Duffton said. Less predator fish should be in the deeper waters, so releasing the lake trout that far from shore should up their chances of survival.
Boat crews also are working to let the fish go near historically important spawning reefs, with the hope that they'll imprint on the reefs and return there to spawn, Conservation Office Project Leader Scott Koproski said. It's all part of a decades-long push to restore these native fish to the Great Lakes.
"Over-harvest coupled with sea lamprey predation decimated the lake trout stock in the upper Great Lakes," he said. "So the FWS, in conjunction with Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the other members of the Lake Huron Committee have a prescribed rehabilitation plan of lake trout."
The plan includes stocking lake trout raised in the national fish hatchery network, Koproski said. And the work is paying off: lots of the young lake trout caught by recreational anglers and population surveyors are naturally spawned fish. This shows that stocked fish are starting to reproduce, and the restoration project is that much closer to its end goal.
"The goal of any restoration program is to get a self-sustaining stock - in this case a self-sustaining stock of lake trout - so stocking is no longer necessary," he said, adding that day possibly could be here sooner rather than later.