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Fish tags are tracking Lake Michigan Chinook salmon
Microscopic tags are helping Indiana biologists learn about Chinook salmon movement and life history patterns in Lake Michigan and its tributaries.

Under direction of the federally funded Great Lakes Mass Marking Program started in 2011, every Chinook salmon stocked in the Great Lakes over a five-year period will have a coded, stainless steel wire tag (CWT) identifying the stocking agency, date and location. The tags are placed in the snouts of the fish.

Fish with a CWT are recognizable by the clipped missing adipose fin (see diagram below). The project will help biologists evaluate survival and growth rates of stocked fish, track movement patterns and provide a better estimate of natural reproduction in Lake Michigan.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists collected 105 CWT fish caught by anglers during April and May 2012. Only 4 percent of the fish were stocked by Indiana; most were stocked by Wisconsin (53 percent) and Michigan (30 percent), with the remaining 12 percent of fish coming from Illinois.

Surprisingly, five of the tagged Chinook came from Lake Huron. Fish stocked in May 2010 and caught in the spring of 2012 averaged 27 inches and 7 pounds. Fish stocked in May 2011 averaged 16 inches and 1.5 pounds.

Indiana biologists also collected 61 tagged Chinooks during sampling of Trail Creek in October 2012. The 2011-stocked fish averaged 22 inches and 3.7 pounds.

“We expected that every Chinook returning to Trail Creek would be a fish stocked by Indiana DNR,” said Brian Breidert, Indiana’s Lake Michigan fisheries biologist. “Surprisingly, that was not the case.”
Preliminary analysis shows 71 percent of the tagged fish were stocked by Indiana, 16 percent by Michigan, 8 percent by Illinois and 5 percent by Wisconsin. As the Mass Marking Program continues, DNR biologists should learn a great deal more about where Indiana’s fish are caught, which tributaries they return to and how well fish from different age classes and stocking sites survive.
Eventually, all trout and salmon stocked in Lake Michigan will be tagged under the guidance of the Mass Marking Program, to further enhance restoration and management efforts in Lake Michigan.

Pigeon River primitive campground closing

The primitive campground at Pigeon River Fish & Wildlife Area (FWA) will close effective March 1 and be converted to wildlife habitat to align with the property’s primary mission.

Factors in the decision to close the 44-site campground include increased operating costs, declining revenue, growing maintenance needs, staffing constraints, fewer users and the availability of other campgrounds nearby.

The DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife, which operates Pigeon River FWA, discussed alternatives to closing the campground, including rate increases, hiring employees to work specifically on the campground or allowing a private vendor to operate it. Each alternative included drawbacks, and the division decided its resources are better used on wildlife management.

FWAs are funded by fishing and hunting license revenue, as well as through excise taxes on shooting, archery and fishing equipment and motorboat fuel. The Pigeon River campground was developed years ago when there were few, if any, private campgrounds in the area.

There are now almost 40 private campgrounds operating in LaGrange and Steuben counties, plus DNR-managed Pokagon State Park 20 miles away.

Prophetstown Spring Break Day Camp in March

Is your kid the outdoors type? Prophetstown State Park is offering a Spring Break Day Camp for 7- to 11-year-olds. The days will be filled with “hands-on” activities including educational games, exploration hikes, nature crafts, and more.

The programs will help children to better understand the natural and cultural history of Prophetstown. Camp begins at 9:30 a.m. each day, and ends at 3:30 p.m.

The park provides snacks and drinks, and the campers bring their own lunch. Space is limited for the three-day camp and pre-registration is required. The activity fee is $45 per child and may be paid the first day of camp.

To register or to ask any questions about the March 26-28 program, please contact the Interpretive Naturalist at 765-567-4919.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Jack Spaulding may contact him by email at or by writing to him in care of this publication.