The Ludington Charter Boat Association

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Net Pen Project

One of the key annual projects of the Ludington Charter Boat Association is the net pen project done in cooperation with the Michigan DNR.  2014 marked the 25th year that the association has participated in a net pen project.

The first few weeks of a young fishery-born salmon’s life can be vulnerable ones. If left to fend for themselves, they must struggle to survive against predators and starvation.

Fortunately for Lake Michigan hatchery salmon, they’re not abandoned into the unforgiving tributaries of the lake during this time. This year, for instance, 38,000 2- to 3-inch Chinook salmon will spend their early days in floating net pens at the Big Sable River at the Ludington State Park. The net pen project dates back to the 1980s and aims to improve the survival rate of the stocked fish.  

Before then, hatchery fish were simply dumped into the river from trucks, after which point they had to struggle to reach Lake Michigan, surviving a number of predators and learning to finding food.

By protecting the vulnerable fry and feeding them during these early stages, the fish are able to adjust to the river in a more gradual way. Additionally, by being placed downriver, their swim to the lake is shorter and safer, giving them a chance to grow stronger before reaching it.

Studies confirm the net pen project works. Hatchery fish received coded wire tags before being released. The tags indicate where and when the fish were introduced to the wild. Then as anglers captured the fish later in life, they would return the fish heads, which contain the tag.

“We found much better survival in the net pen fish,” said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor for southwest Michigan.

Similar projects take place on other Lake Michigan tributaries, the Black, Kalamazoo, and Grand rivers.

See our pictures in the photo gallery:

Also watch this Sea Grant video on the life cycle of the Chinook Salmon

For more information on how you can help contact: Capt. Dave Lindberg at 231-510-2972