Who should pay for bass culling study?

Some trout regs are relaxed

By Tim Eisele

Correspondent

Madison Wisconsin Natural Resources Board members delayed action
on a bass culling study because it appears a new state law will
require anglers to pay for a study that would benefit fishing
tournament organizers.

Board members also had questions about livewell requirements for
that study.

The livewell controversy involves a new state law that creates a
pilot program where, in four tournaments this summer and four
tournaments next summer, bass tournament anglers may sort, or cull,
fish.

Currently, culling is illegal in Wisconsin. Once a fish is
caught and put on a stringer or in a livewell, it is considered “in
possession” and cannot later be released if the angler catches a
larger fish and wants to keep it and release the smaller fish.

The DNR established a Fishing Tournament Advisory Committee that
developed minimum standards for livewells for these four “study”
tournaments. The standards were discussed at a public hearing, and
Steve Hewett, chief of the Policy and Operations Section for the
DNR Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection, told the
board DNR recommendations for the culling tournaments should
include the following livewell requirements:

They must be an original manufactured part of the boat, and all
wells combined in the boat must have a capacity of at least 25
gallons.

The livewells must be in working condition, continuously pumping
fresh water, and re-circulating and aerating water.

The pilot program regulations were modified to allow tournaments
to be four days long. Standard DNR rules allow three-days contests,
but national tournaments normally are four days, with a smaller
field on the last day.

The tournament proposal caught flack when Herb Behnke, board
member from Shawano, asked how the DNR could justify special
consideration (culling), not available to the general public, for
tournaments.

Hewett noted that the DNR fisheries bureau is not in favor of
allowing special privileges for only a certain group of anglers;
however, this was a compromise requested by the Legislature to
develop tournament rules.

He noted that tournament anglers also have to buy fishing
licenses. And, in general fish caught in tournaments don’t have a
significant impact on general bass populations.

Board members wondered if this could provide the opening for the
culling of other species. Hewett said the pilot program would have
a sunset rule and would end Dec. 31, 2006.

John Welter, board member from Eau Claire, was concerned that
the DNR will have to monitor the impact on the fish populations and
the culled fish.

Christine Thomas, board member from Stevens Point, then noted
that the board approved a budget request reducing the number of DNR
fish research positions, yet the pilot program would require more
research on the effects of culling.

George Meyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation (WWF), told the board that 61 percent of WWF members
oppose culling and asked that the minimum livewell capacity be
increased to 30 gallons of water to ensure that all fish are
protected.

“Clearly, hunters and anglers in this state are opposed to it.
And, we also believe that the effects of culling should be studied,
but it should not be financed by anglers of the state,” Meyer said.
“We strongly encourage the board to ask those who will benefit and
make money on this the tournament sponsors to fund the study that
they pushed through the Legislature.”

The board decided to table the issue, giving the DNR time to
re-examine the proposal and to determine who will fund the
research. The DNR will return with another proposal at a later
meeting.

Trout regulation changes

Changes in several fishing regulations also were approved at the
board.

The board approved changes to trout regulations on two streams
in Richland County that resulted from anglers coming to the board
and requesting alternate regulations from what the DNR wanted.

The trout regulation changes, which now must be reviewed by
legislative committees and aren’t expected to be in place until the
middle of the summer, replace the catch-and-release regulations on
the upper Pine River with a three-fish daily bag limit and 9-inch
size limit.

The board also changed the regulations on Melancthon Creek from
catch and release to a five-fish daily bag limit (only three brook
trout). The size limit will be 7 inches for brown trout, with a 6-
to 9-inch harvest slot for brook trout. In addition, artificial
lures will be required upstream of Hwy. 80 to reduce hooking
mortality of brook trout.

Hewett told the board the regulation is complicated because it’s
the result of a compromise.

The DNR consulted with the Conservation Congress Trout Committee
and took the proposal to a public hearing in November in Richland
Center.

“We want to use Melancthon Creek as a brood source for wild
trout stocking, but if that doesn’t work out then we are willing to
re-evaluate these regulations,” Hewett said.

John Slaney, of Merrimac, was one of the anglers who last year
requested the board make the change. He presented a petition with
266 signatures. He disagreed with the artificial lure
requirement.

Slaney said the requirement of artificial lures in some areas
will result in more fish being killed, because if live bait were
allowed, fewer fishermen would fish.

However, the DNR countered by citing a study of trout fishing on
the Brule River that found bait-fishing causes up to 40 percent
mortality, while fishing with artificial lures later killed only 2
percent to 4 percent of the fish that were released.

John Welter, board member from Eau Claire, said he thought the
DNR had done a good job of trying to reconcile the differences and
that the upper reaches could serve as nursery waters for trout.

He supported the new regulations, which the board adopted.

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