Plans for muskies, smallies in limbo

Madison In the aftermath of the April 14 spring hearings in
which sportsmen rejected higher size limits for muskies in Vilas
and Oneida counties and bass on the Lower Wisconsin River, DNR
fishery leaders want to meet with DNR Secretary Scott Hassett
before deciding just what the next step might be regarding higher
size limits.

DNR Bureau of Fisheries Management Director Mike Staggs said he
and other biologists were to have met with Hassett on Monday, April
21 to review the spring hearing vote totals and talk about whether
to drop higher muskie and bass size limits, as they were proposed
April 14, come back with different alternatives, or try to address
concerns voiced by opponents before resurrecting both proposals one
more time.

“Given we have a new administration, I’m not sure what will
happen,” Staggs said. “Secretary Hassett has talked to us about
wanting to look at some of these issues. I really don’t know yet
what will happen. We will know more after April 21.”

On the 50-inch muskie front, Staggs said issues ranged across
the board from biology, to impacts on anglers, to whether the DNR
could accomplish anything in light of tribal spearing, to who was
involved in the lake selection process.

“There just seemed to be a lot of concerns that people said
weren’t addressed enough before the hearings,” Staggs said.

He also noted that this year the vote patterns were a little
different, in that both the bass and muskie proposals were defeated
statewide, not just at the local counties.

“That was something different,” he said. “Neither proposal was
popular locally or statewide that doesn’t happen very often.”

Staggs said the Lower Wisconsin bass proposal appeared to face
similar obstacles.

“Ultimately, it might be that a lot of anglers don’t want higher
size limits, but we do have outstanding bass fisheries out there
that are the result of higher limits. Maybe the Lower Wisconsin
isn’t the right place to do it,” Staggs said.

More than 4,800 people attended the 2003 spring hearings. The
attendance was down considerably from the more than 11,000 people
who attended last year, and well below the average of about 7,000
over the past 20 years (with the exception of 1999, when more than
30,000 people turned out for the hearings to address a proposed
dove hunting season), said Al Phelan, DNR hearing coordinator.

A proposal to increase muskie length limits on 38 waters in
Vilas and Oneida counties to 50 inches and three waters in Dane
County to 45 inches had mixed results. Voters rejected the higher
limits on the northern lakes, but approved them for Dane
County.

“We knew that the muskie proposal was one that had generated a
great deal of strong feelings both in favor of and opposed to the
change,” said Patrick Schmalz, DNR fishing regulations
coordinator.

There were separate questions for each of the northern lakes or
chains, and they were rejected by more than a two-to-one margin for
each lake. The proposals for the Dane County lakes were supported
by about 1,200 voters and opposed by more than 900.

Hassett said the vote reflects a broad range of opinions among
anglers of what constitutes a “trophy” fish and how the proposed
rule would affect both anglers and muskie populations on the
proposed lakes.

“I plan to discuss this proposal with our biologists, anglers,
and others interested in muskies to see if we can identify a fewer
number of waters that more people would generally agree upon could
provide this type of opportunity,” Hassett said.

A proposal to change the closing fishing date to the first
Sunday in March so that the season closes on a Sunday every year
was supported overwhelmingly, with more than 3,000 in favor and 764
opposed.

A series of wildlife rule proposals dealing with a possible
hunting season for the state’s elk herd received support. In
January 2002, the Legislature authorized the DNR to develop an elk
season framework. The public was asked to respond to defining elk
management zones, adopting weapon, hunting season, hunter safety
and kill reporting requirements, and setting population goals for
management zones. Each of the questions was endorsed by
overwhelming margins, with more than 3,200 agreeing that any elk
season should be delayed until the population reaches at least 200
animals.

Earlier, the Natural Resources Board approved an elk management
plan that proposed the opening of a hunting season when the
population reached 150 animals. DNR biologists proposed this change
to limit the disruption to the elk herd during these initial years
of population growth. Any change to the existing plan would require
action by the Natural Resources Board at a future meeting.

Results of the hearing are advisory to the Natural Resources
Board. In addition to the advisory questions, each county held
elections for local delegates for the Wisconsin Conservation
Congress, which is a legislatively established citizen body created
in 1934 to advise the Natural Resources Board on fish and wildlife
management issues and policy.

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