Anglers Asked to Aid Research by Donating Fish Heads

Anglers fishing Lake Michigan’s open waters and tributaries for Chinook and lake trout are being asked to donate the heads of the fish they harvest to aid research critical to keeping fishing strong.

“With the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more tagged fish are being stocked now than ever before,” says Cheryl Masterson, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries technician.

“The tag in the fish’s snout has a number that tells us when and where the fish was stocked. To learn as much as we can about the behavior of the fish in the lake, we would like to collect heads from tagged sport-caught fish.”

Only those harvested fish missing the small back top fin, known as the adipose fin, are being sought, because the missing fin is a sign that the fish likely received a tag in its snout. For several years now, federal and state natural resource agencies have been marking hatchery-raised Chinook and trout by safely implanting a tiny steel tag etched with a number relating to where and when the fish was hatched and stocked. Now that the fish are growing large enough to be kept by anglers, researchers are collecting Chinook salmon and trout heads to look for the steel tags.

DNR has partnered with local businesses in most major ports along the lakeshore where anglers can drop off fish heads, Masterson says. Each business has been given a supply of forms for anglers to fill out and bags to use for freezing the head. Anglers should include the following information with each head – date of capture and capture location, along with the fish species, length, weight, and gender, she said.

Nick Legler, DNR fisheries biologist in Sturgeon Bay, said the information associated with the number on the tag in the fish can help answer how many fish are in Lake Michigan, how many are wild instead of raised in a hatchery, and where they are caught in relation to where they were stocked. Data also will be used to measure fish growth and age at capture and to evaluate hatchery and stocking practices.