More sturgeon spearing changes may be coming

By Tim Eisele Correspondent

Oshkosh, Wis. — The Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing season
could take on more changes for 2006, if the public supports
proposals from the DNR during an upcoming series of public
hearings.

The Natural Resources Board (NRB) agreed to hold a public
hearing on changes to the Lake Winnebago sturgeon spearing season
during its meeting in Oshkosh on June 29.

The Lake Winnebago sturgeon season was changed earlier this year
when the NRB approved an emergency rule allowing the DNR to close
the season at the end of the first day if the allowable harvest was
exceeded that day. The board also asked the DNR to look at options
for future seasons that will allow spearing to extend over more
days, while maintaining an acceptable harvest rate.

Steve Hewett, DNR Bureau of Fisheries Management regulations
specialist, said that following five public meetings and two
meetings with the Lake Winnebago Citizens Sturgeon Advisory
Committee, the DNR proposed the following changes:

  • Create a random permit drawing system for an annual spearing
    fishery on the upriver lakes beginning in 2007. This would
    redistribute effort and produce an annual limited harvest rather
    than the one-day season permitted every fifth year with the current
    rules.

The DNR intends to allocate 10 percent of the total system’s
harvest cap for female sturgeon to the upriver lakes, and 20
percent of the system’s cap for juvenile and male sturgeon.

That could result in 500 to 700 tags per year on the upriver
lakes, but those numbers aren’t final, according to Ron Bruch, DNR
sturgeon biologist in Oshkosh. “We’re still working on (harvest)
data from this last season.”

  • “Fast start” with a 100-percent closure trigger: Beginning in
    2006, allow the season to be closed at the end of a spearing day
    should any one of the three harvest caps (juvenile females, adult
    females, and males) be reached or exceeded that day.

This proposal provides emergency protection for sturgeon in
seasons where spearing conditions are ideal and harvest caps are
quickly reached. This is similar to the emergency rule that was in
place for the 2005 season.

  • “Slow finish” with 90-percent closure trigger: Beginning in
    2006, increase the season closure trigger from 80 percent to 90
    percent. This is designed to extend the season when conditions are
    unfavorable and the risk of excessive harvest is low. Under the
    current rule, the season is closed 24 hours after the end of the
    spearing day when 80 percent of any one of the three harvest caps
    is reached. The DNR believes the 80-percent trigger could be
    increased to 90 percent without increasing the risk of
    overharvest.

Bruch said most people expected the 2005 season to be short and
sweet, but instead it turned out to be a relatively long
season.

“This calmed the public down and they weren’t so quick to jump
to a radical change,” Bruch said. “We met with the Sturgeon
Advisory Committee with the goal of maintaining safe harvest wile
maximizing opportunities, meaning people did not want a lottery on
Lake Winnebago at this time, but they were willing to have it for
the upriver lakes.”

Bruch told the board the harvest would still be controlled by
harvest caps. The key is keeping the adult female harvest down to 5
percent of the total.

There will be a public hearing on the proposed changes. That
hearing will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 17, beginning at 7 p.m.
in Oshkosh at the Winnebago County Coughlin Building.

“We’ve had so many meetings and workshops after the 2004 season
and then another round of meetings in 2005, so this has been fairly
well discussed and debated in the public sector. I feel comfortable
that we can handle this in one public hearing,” Bruch said.

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