KEWAUNEE - Underwater holding nets are giving thousands of fingerling chinook salmon a fighting chance.
Ten thousand fish are part of a stocking effort in the Kewaunee River, and a new state law is making it possible.
A special delivery rolled into Kewaunee Thursday morning.
"We will be putting 10,000 fish total into the pens. We have two pens, and each pen will receive 5,000 chinooks," said Nick Legler, Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist.
The pens have a dual role. One, they are designed to keep birds away from freshly stocked fish, worth nearly $20,000.
"One of the things we've observed over the last several years, is the increase in cormorant population has been devouring the resource that is the chinook salmon," said Tom Kleiman of Accurate Marine.
Two, fish can adjust from hatchery life, to life in Lake Michigan.
"While the fish are in the pen, it may allow them to imprint better to the river water here, and it may also allow them to survive better after they're released," said Legler.
Survival of the fish at the bottom of the nets affects the bottom line for area anglers. Sport fishing is big business along the Lakeshore.
Lee Haasch a fishing guide from Algoma. He charters more than 200 trips a year.
"We're trying to make this a better fishery for all the fishermen, not only those on charters, but those coming with their private boats," said Lee Haasch of Haasch Guide Service.
It's all part of a new state law. Both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly passed the initiative. The governor signed it last year.
But will it work? The DNR says net pens have been used in other states.
"Some of the prospects have shown that net pens have had a positive result, others have shown really not much effect and some have actually shown a negative effect, because there is a risk of holding fish in a confined environment like that," said Legler.
Kewaunee fishermen say a similar fish release under different rules was successful last season.
"Out of the 17,000 that we were allowed to put in the pens last year, we lost one fish," said Kleiman.
Volunteers will keep an eye on the salmon, and in a couple of weeks, the fish will be released in deeper lake water off the Kewaunee shoreline.