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This history of the salmon in the Great Lakes describes the decline and extinction of the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in Lake Ontario in the 1800's; the failure to establish, by salmon culture, permanent or sizable populations of Atlantic or Pacific salmon in any of the Great Lakes in 1867-1965; and the success of the plantings of coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and chinook salmon (O. tshawytsha) in the Great Lakes, in 1966-70 -- particularly in Lake Michigan.
Despite plantings of 5 million fry and fingerlings from Lake Ontario stocks in 1866-84, the native Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario became extinct in the late 1800's primarily because tributaries in which they spawned were blocked by mill dams. Plantings of 13 million chinook salmon and landlocked and anadromous forms of Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes in 1873-1947 failed completely. The first species to develop a self-sustaining population was the pink salmon (O. gorbuscha), which was planted in Lake Superior in 1956; however, it has not become abundant.
A salmon fishery finally was established when 15 million coho salmon and 6 million chinook salmon were planted as smolt in the Great Lakes in 1966-70. In 1970, for example, 576,000 coho salmon (12% of those planted in 1969) were caught by anglers in Lake Michigan. Most weighed 5 to 10 pounds (2.3-4.5 kg). Sport fishing for salmon was fair in Lakes Superior and Huron, and poor in Lakes Erie and Ontario.
By 1970, natural reproduction of coho, chinook, pink, and kokanee (O. nerka) salmon had occurred in some tributaries of one or more of the upper three Great Lakes. It is expected, however, that the sport fishery will continue to be supported almost entirely by planted fish.