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Progress toward lake trout restoration in Lake Michigan is described through 1993. Extinction of the native lake trout fishery by sea lamprey predation, augmented by exploitation and habitat destruction, resulted in an extensive stocking program of hatchery-reared lake trout that began in 1965. Sea lamprey abundance was effectively controlled using selective chemical toxicants. The initial stocking produced a measurable wild year class of lake trout by 1976 in Grand Traverse Bay, but failed to continue probably due to excessive exploitation. The overall lack of successful reproduction lakewide by the late 1970s led to the development and implementation in 1985 of a focused interagency lakewide restoration plan by a technical committee created through the Lake Committee structure of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Strategies implemented in 1985 by the plan included setting a 40% total mortality goal lakewide, creating two large refuges designed to encompass historically the most productive spawning habitat and protect trout stocked over their home range, evaluating several lake trout strains, and setting stocking priorities throughout the lake. Target levels for stocking in the 1985 Plan have never been reached, and are much less than the estimated lakewide recruitment of yearlings by the native lake trout stocks. Since 1985, over 90% of the available lake trout have been stocked over the best spawning habitat, and colonization of the historically productive offshore reefs has occurred. Concentrations of spawning lake trout large enough for successful reproduction, based on observations of successful hatchery and wild stocks, have developed at specific reefs. Continued lack of recruitment at these specific sites suggests that something other than stock abundance has limited success. Poor survival of lake trout eggs, assumed to be related to contaminant burden, occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but survival has since increased to equal survival in the hatchery. A recent increase in lamprey wounding rates in northern Lake Michigan appears to be related to the uncontrolled build-up of lampreys in the St. Marys River a tributary of Lake Huron. If left uncontrolled, further progress toward restoration in the Northern Refuge may be limited.
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Progress toward lake trout restoration in Lake Michigan