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Salmon's favorite food dwindling in Lake Michigan

Dead alewives, an invasive fish, sometimes wash up on Michigan beaches by the millions. Salmon are credited with reducing the number of the fish.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Alewives washed up on shore.

It looks like food for salmon will continue to be scarce in Lake Michigan. Researchers say it appears not many alewives were born in the lake this year - and salmon eat almost nothing else.

Neither salmon nor alewives are native to the Great Lakes, but it's bad news for people trying to keep the billion-dollar sport fishery alive in Lake Michigan.

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio and he's been covering this story. He explains that every year researchers go out on the lakes to see what’s happening.

"One of the important surveys is of prey fish, the little feeder fish that big fish like salmon like to eat, and in Lake Michigan this year they found very few newborn alewives. There are alewives in the lake, ones that were born in years past. But the young of the year, the new class of alewives; they found very few," he says.

He says this means there won't be a nice bounce in the food supply for salmon this year like the managers were hoping for.

"The alewife population in Lake Michigan is looking a little punch drunk."

“A fish population is sort of like a boxer and the more it gets knocked down, the harder it is to get up. So, while for instance, in 2010, there was a huge resurgence, a lot of alewives were born that year, this year there were almost none born, and as the population steadily declines, it’s harder for the fish to make a comeback. So in Lake Huron, for instance, it finally dwindled to the point where the alewives have basically disappeared, and there are no more salmon to speak of in Lake Huron except in the northern part of the lake. Right now, the alewife population in Lake Michigan is looking a little punch drunk."

He says managers are cutting salmon stocking by 50% in Lake Michigan to try to alleviate the problem.

You can listen to the full interview above.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.
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