Music and NPR News for Central and Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Health, Science and Environment

Smelt catch in the Great Lakes has dropped dramatically

"Kuskokwim Smelt" by Andrea Pokrzywinski is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Ice fishers in the north are catching some smelt now that we’ve had a hard freeze on some Michigan inland lakes. In which, might be a good sign for a licensed commercial smelt fisher in the state.

The Ruleau Brothers fishing operation in the Upper Peninsula catches smelt in Lake Michigan, sometimes.

Bob Ruleau says over the last 30 years, the smelt population has dropped dramatically.

“Last year we didn’t catch any. The year prior we had a couple drags that was decent while we were trying to catch them.”

According to the Associated Press, commercial fishers used to haul in millions of pounds of smelt in the U.S., a lot of it from Lake Michigan.

The last year for which there are numbers, 2018, there was a total catch of about 50 thousand pounds. Ruleau blames zebra and quagga mussels, more predation by bigger fish and warmer winters.