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(News Tribune Graphics)

Fall steelhead count drops on the Brule

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Last fall’s steelhead run on the Brule River turned out to be much lower than Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologists originally had estimated.

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The 2013 fall steelhead run came in at 2,924, down significantly from the 2012 fall run of 4,594 and the lowest in many years. It was similar to the fall 2011 run of 2,933 steelhead, according to the DNR.

Steelhead bound upstream to spawn on the river are counted on videotape as they pass the Brule River Lamprey Barrier.

The second low fall run in the past three years raises concerns for Paul Piszczek, DNR fisheries biologist in Superior.

“A report like this definitely generates a lot of questions in my mind as a manager,” Piszczek said. “I want to look into the files and the data and come up with some better answers.”

The annual Brule steelhead spawning run also consists of a spring run, which typically is much smaller than the fall run. Fish that enter the river in the fall spend the winter in the river and then move upstream to spawn in the spring. This spring’s steelhead run occurred in March and April, but final figures for that run have not been tallied, Piszczek said.

The DNR fisheries office in Superior is short-staffed, which has delayed release of trout and salmon run data compared to previous years.

Several thousand brown trout and coho salmon also enter the Brule to spawn each year. Piszczek said he wants to study the relationships between those species and steelhead as he attempts to better understand the steelhead run.

“I’m interested in how the three species use space or compete for it,” he said.

The coho run last fall was 2,619, the highest it has been in several years. The brown trout run was 3,475, which was a bit higher than the average for recent years.

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