By Frank Krist, NMCN Contributing Editor –
Mass marking involves inserting a tiny metal tag in the noses of all trout and salmon stocked in the Great Lakes. The tags show which hatchery the fish are reared in along with when and where they are stocked. Unless fish are monitored after they are released there is no way of knowing how successful the plants are. It is wasteful and unproductive to keep stocking fish that are surviving poorly and it is efficient and cost effective to focus on species and stocking locations that are providing the best returns to the anglers.
Wild reproduction of species such as Chinook salmon, lake trout and steelhead have been increasing steadily and marking the hatchery fish will assist in determining when wild reproduction is high enough to stop stocking a species. For example, survival was dismal for hatchery Chinook salmon stocked in the Southern and Central sections of Lake Huron, so stocking was stopped and the resulting available hatchery space was switched to rearing Atlantic salmon. Marking of the Chinook salmon showed that they were no longer contributing to the fishery and this information assisted in making the cost-effective decision to change direction and rear Atlantic salmon that offer considerably more potential.
Most species of trout and salmon travel long distances and marking can show whether the fish are being caught locally or throughout a lake. Chinook salmon and steelhead even move between lakes and knowing which stocking sites the fish are coming from can help determine the best stocking sites.
The marking program began in 2010. Currently, Chinook salmon and lake trout are being marked with metal tags in all of the Great Lakes, however, there is an urgent need to mark steelhead, Atlantic salmon and Coho salmon. The introduction of the quagga and zebra mussels has drastically changed the food webs of the four lower Great Lakes and monitoring the progress of the stocking programs is crucial to restoring and maintaining fishing opportunities. The states, Ontario, and tribal fishery management agencies in the Great Lakes region are supporting the project and all agencies have agreed to have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) manage the program. During the last two years, the USFWS has demonstrated a high quality program by consistently marking over 7,000 fish per hour with almost no casualties.
The project has an annual operations cost of $5.2 million and has been funded yearly through earmarks and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Earmarks are no longer available, so with no base funding after 2012 there is no financial support on the horizon. To ensure that this crucial program continues, please contact Dan Ashe, the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (1849 C Street, NW, Room 3359, Washington DC 20240), your U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative. Two example letters and a short overview of the program are available to assist with writing your own letter (Sample Letter #1, Sample Letter #2).