DNR News: Free fishing, NRC meeting, saving salmon, creel surveys & more

Share or view as webpage  |  Update preferences

News Digest - Week of June 8, 2020

woman helping a young child hold a fishing pole, surrounded by forest greenery and rocks

Michigan's Summer Free Fishing Weekend is right around the corner, June 13-14.

Some of the items in this week's news digest reflect the impact of COVID-19 and how the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is adapting to meet customers' needs. Public health and safety are our biggest priorities, and we will continue to share news and information about the safest, and sometimes new, ways to enjoy our state's natural and cultural resources.

Follow our COVID-19 response page for FAQs and updates on facilities and reopening dates. For the latest public health guidelines and news, visit  at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.

Here's a look at some of this week's stories:

See other news releases, Showcasing the DNR stories, photos and other resources at Michigan.gov/DNRPressRoom.

PHOTO FOLDER: Larger, higher-res versions of the images used below, and others, are available in this folder.

Teachers find quick, creative ways to complete salmon’s journey

close-up view of salmon fry in a clear plastic cup of water, held by hands

The future of 45,000 baby salmon hung in the balance as schools across Michigan abruptly closed their doors in March. The normal date for releasing fish raised as part of the DNR’s Salmon in the Classroom program is between April 15 and May 15, but the state’s coronavirus emergency required a swift change.

This year’s program included nearly 300 teachers from across the state. Each classroom raises 150 Chinook salmon, from egg to smolt – the “young adult” phase of life – followed by a spring release in an approved waterway. Students help care for the fish, while teachers use provided curriculum to teach about ecology, Great Lakes concerns, natural resources stewardship and more.

When many teachers found themselves locked out of buildings and needed to quickly, and safely, release their fish, program coordinator Tracy Page worked with other experts at the DNR to create a plan. Page said the teachers jumped into action with “care and compassion for their classroom fish friends.”

Sarah Cartwright, seventh grade science teacher at Berkley’s Norup International School in Oakland County, had just 20 minutes to get fish out of the tank.

“That was a challenge, as they usually do not like getting caught,” Cartwright said. With her two young children in tow, she met the school’s sixth grade science teacher in Rochester Hills at the Clinton River – a site approved by DNR fisheries biologists – to release Norup International School’s 114 successfully raised and healthy fish.

back view of a girl and a boy pulling salmon fry from a classroom tank

In many areas of the state, some teachers were able to practice social distancing and use COVID-19 cleaning protocols that allowed them to enter buildings for short periods of time to feed fish, clean tanks and record educational content for students.

“I’m so appreciative of these teachers’ ingenuity and lengths they went to in order to educate their kids and care for this living resource,” Page said. “They created virtual lessons, used our Salmon in the Classroom activities, and showcased tank cameras and Facebook Live releases.”

Most teachers are heavily involved in scheduling field trips, guiding students and other program logistics, but many never get to release a fish. This year, teacher efforts include:

  • Amy Henning, teacher at Freeland Elementary in Saginaw County, worked fish releases into one-on-one virtual meetings with students, so each student felt like an integral part of the classroom project.
  • Iron Mountain teacher Robin Marttila – with the help of his son and daughter – released his classroom’s fish in the Cedar River. “Though we missed the seventh graders who wanted to take part in the final stage of this journey … we were able to release 117 fish safely,” he said.
  • Scott Steensma, teacher at Onaway Service Learning in Presque Isle County, made it a family adventure with his wife and two kids, releasing fish at Ocqueoc Falls.

Page praised teachers for making the most of a challenging situation and showing a true sense of project and resource ownership. She closed out this year’s program with virtual field trips to include students in the next steps for these fish. Future virtual programs are in the works, too. 

Looking ahead, 22 new teachers plan to join the program next year. Learn more about Salmon in the Classroom at Michigan.gov/SIC or contact Tracy Page at 989-277-0630.

Watch Thursday's NRC meeting live online

mature bull elk in the fall forest

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission’s next regular meeting is Thursday, June 11. Due to COVID-19 public health and safety guidelines, the meeting will be hosted in an online format.

You can watch the meeting live online using this link. Those who want to provide public comment for the meeting should call 517-284-5808 or email NRC@Michigan.gov.

The meeting starts at 9 a.m. with the Committee of the Whole, and the agenda includes updates on:

  • Mandatory elk hunt orientation changes.
  • The 2019 deer harvest survey report.
  • Deer hunting regulations.
  • Several land transactions.

See the full draft meeting agenda at Michigan.gov/NRC. For the latest on other public meetings, visit the DNR's boards, commissions and committees webpage.

Enjoy free fishing this weekend, June 13-14

smiling young boy and girl holding a fish

Grab a fishing rod and enjoy some fine Michigan fishing during the 2020 Summer Free Fishing Weekend. This year, it’s Saturday and Sunday, June 13 and 14 – two full days when everyone can fish without a license (though all other fishing regulations still apply).

During Free Fishing Weekends, the DNR waives the Recreation Passport entry fee normally required for vehicle access to Michigan’s 103 state parks and recreation areas; however, the passport requirement has already been suspended until further notice.

The DNR has offered Free Fishing Weekends since 1986 as a way to promote awareness of the state's vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.

“Being outdoors and enjoying Michigan’s world-class fisheries never gets old,” said Jim Dexter, DNR Fisheries Division chief. “We encourage families to plan a day of fishing for this year’s summer Free Fishing Weekend to enjoy the fun of fishing together.”

Everyone is reminded to practice proper social distancing (at least 6 feet) from people who don't live in the same household. 

For more information, visit Michigan.gov/FreeFishing. Download the 2020 Fishing Guide for current regulations and information.

Questions? Contact Suzanne Stone at 517-599-7987.

Creel clerks hope to connect with anglers this summer

a DNR creel clerk measures a fish during a survey

As this year’s open-water fishing season gets underway, anglers at many lakes, rivers and Great Lakes ports may encounter DNR fisheries staff members collecting data about their fishing experiences.

“The information we gather from anglers helps us get a clearer picture about fish health, movement and population trends throughout Michigan,” said DNR fisheries biologist Tracy Claramunt. “We really appreciate anglers taking a few minutes to talk with us.”

Creel clerks are stationed at boat launches and piers around the state, asking people questions as they return from fishing trips. Trip length, target species and number and type of fish caught provide valuable data for the DNR's statewide angler survey program. In some cases, clerks may ask to measure or weigh fish and to take scales or other body parts for aging – data that is key to helping the DNR manage state fisheries.

The statewide angler survey program is a long-term monitoring effort that estimates the amount of time people spend fishing and how many of each species of fish are caught and kept or released in Michigan waters. It's one of the most comprehensive angler survey programs in the country, with DNR creel clerks interviewing upward of 50,000 anglers in most years.

Information about where creel clerks are stationed and the data they collect is available on the DNR website or by calling Tracy Claramunt at 517-282-2887.


As many parts of the state start to reopen, make sure you know what's happening at your favorite outdoor spots. Last week we outlined details for state parks, campgrounds and more.  


Looking for the hunt of a lifetime? You can apply for the Pure Michigan Hunt as often as you like now through Dec. 31. Each application is just $5, and all purchases help support habitat restoration!


Michigan manages about 4 million acres of state forest land, and you can learn all about it at upcoming virtual open houses. Don't miss the chance to share your ideas on the future of state forests. 

DNR COVID-19 RESPONSE: For details on affected DNR facilities and services, visit this webpage. Follow state actions and guidelines at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus.

Census 2020 - Be Counted