Perch decline may mean Green Bay closure

Green Bay, Wis. If the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
recommends a complete closure of the yellow perch fishery on the
waters of Green Bay, they’ll be missing the boat, so says
fourth-generation commercial fisherman Mark Maricque of Green
Bay.

“As far as I’m concerned they’re not addressing the issue, and
that’s white perch and carp,” Maricque said. “If we were allowed to
remove white perch through normal fishing practices until we
reached our quota (of yellow perch), maybe we could help clean up
this mess.”

Preliminary studies by the DNR and UW-Sea Grant seem to show
that adult white perch predation on young-of-the-year yellow perch
may be a key factor in the decline. Maricque said carp root up and
destroy aquatic plants used by yellow perch to disperse their
spawn. Carp stirrings also keep contaminated sediments suspended,
where they can flush farther out into the bay.

White perch and carp aren’t the only scapegoats. Many sport
anglers believe a booming population of fish-eating cormorants are
to blame. Chuck Schommer of Schommer’s Resort on Sawyer Harbor,
adjacent to Door County’s Potawatomi State Park, said he’s seen
hundreds of cormorants devour spawning perch each spring.

“And the big ones, they kill those, too,” Schommer said. “Last
year I scooped up some big perch that they grabbed but couldn’t
swallow.”

Others think it’s a combination of all of the above, plus
predation by strong populations of spotted muskies, northern pike,
walleyes, smallmouth bass, trout and burbot. Among the many other
possibilities: alewives, zebra mussels, water temperature changes
during recent spring spawning seasons, and pollution.

Ron Hedsand, of Sunset Bar & Grill on Riley’s Point in Door
County, has yet another theory: clear water on the bay in recent
years has changed the places people are finding fish, and, at
times, made them tougher to catch. But Hedsand said there was some
excellent perch fishing for those who knew where to look last
year.

“It baffles me that they’re thinking of shutting it down,”
Hedsand said. “With this clear water we have now, we’re seeing a
lot of perch in every age class when we fish for bass in spring.
Last year was no different.”

Hedsand thinks closing the sport fishery would be penalizing the
paying customer, while cormorants, white perch and other predators
continue to feast on yellow perch.

“I get $7 for a boat launch, and a lot of guys stop in to eat
and have a drink,” Hedsand said. “If they shut it down or even
reduce the bag limit to five perch, there’s going to be a ripple
effect throughout the economy.”

Using data from spring and summer fyke net and trawl surveys, a
sport creel census and records from commercial fishermen, DNR
biologists estimated that the 1988 biomass of yellow perch in the
bay was about 10 million pounds. In recent years, the estimates
have been come in at less than one million. The sport angler catch
has dropped from estimates of more than 3 million fish in both 1990
and 1991 to less than 200,000 in both 1998 and 2000.

Meanwhile, the commercial harvest has fallen from a high of
about 475,000 pounds of yellow perch in 1991 to less than 150,000
pounds two of the past three years. And in a 2001 quota season that
began last July, commercial netters have taken less than 20,000
pounds so far.

“It’s because most aren’t fishing,” Maricque said. “Guys don’t
want to stay out until 5 p.m. picking white perch out of the nets
for the few yellows. On any given day, it could be 10-1 or 100-1
(ratio of white perch to yellow perch).”

Even though commercial netters say there’s a strong market for
white perch, the DNR hasn’t allowed them to net the fish due to
concerns of PCB contamination. When last checked in 1996, the fish
were testing out at over 2 parts per million of PCBs. The DNR has
proposed a new project to look at PCB levels to see if they’ve
dropped.

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