Introducing King Salmon to the Great Lakes

Have you ever wondered how the non-native King Salmon were introduced to the Great Lakes? Native to the North Pacific Ocean, King Salmon were introduced to the Great Lakes in order to control a substantially high Alewife population. Beaches up and down the coast were covered with dead Alewives, and because King Salmon are such aggressive feeders, they were introduced to control the situation. The Department of Natural Resources implemented a Salmon stocking program called a “hatchery” to essentially farm Salmon for release into our native waters.  A side benefit to the introduction of the Salmon occurred for commercial fishermen who discovered that not only were these big fish an important new member of the Great Lakes ecosystem, they we a ton of fun to fish as well!

Wild King Salmon Lifecycle 

King Salmon have a unique lifecycle which makes the Salmon stocking program a little different but also more controlled. While natural reproduction does occur, the stocking program has a bigger and more controlled impact on the total population.

A King Salmon has a defined 4 year life cycle. That’s right, somehow these fish go from the size of your finger to 30+ pounds in just 4 years!

Spawning occurs in the fall and is when the eggs are fertilized. They usually hatch in the winter and incubate until early spring as Sac Fry. This then turns into a Parr which is the first stage of a “fish-looking” creature. Parr live and feed in the river during the spring and then head out to Lake Michigan in early summer becoming a Smolt. From here, the fish goes through the lake phase were it essentially feeds like crazy for 3.5 years. In the fall of the 4th year of a Salmon’s life, they return back to the river in which they were born and lay their eggs. Once they have spawned out, they become extremely dark in color and then die.

Hatchery Salmon Lifecycle

The stocked life of a King Salmon is virtually the exact same though the fish are hatched at a fish hatchery and they are not introduced to a river system until the Parr stage. In this case, after the four years are up, the fish return back to the river in which they were stocked.

Most people don’t realize the impact that a fish can have on a state, but Salmon truly are important to Michigan’s economy. People come from all over the world to chase these predator fish. Next time you are charter fishing in Traverse City with Megabite Fishing Charters, make sure you ask your Captain and crew all about this process and any other questions you have. There is plenty more to learn and we love to share our knowledge with anyone interested.