‘Unprecedented’ bag in order for Erie perch

Columbus – For sport anglers on Lake Erie, the bad news is that
the yellow perch bag in the western basin will likely be reduced to
25 fish per day.

The good news is that those anglers would have that portion of
the lake all to themselves.

Nevertheless, the proposed reduction of the perch bag limit is
an “unprecedented” step in Ohio fisheries management, the head of
the unit said in February.

“We’ve never (had a daily bag) below 30 and we’ve never
separated bag limits by management units,” said Ray Petering, the
DNR Division of Wildlife’s fisheries chief.

As reported in the Feb. 15 issue of Ohio Outdoor News, the Ohio
Wildlife Council is considering a drop in the daily perch bag limit
from 30 to 25 in waters west of Huron. The proposal keeps the daily
bag at 30 in waters east of Huron.

The rule change would also eliminate commercial fishing for
perch in the western basin, at least for this year, and move those
Ohio operations into the central basin east of Huron.

If approved, the restrictions would go into effect for the
commercial fishing industry on May 1 and sport fishermen on July

The bag restriction is necessary, Petering said, due to an
expected reduction in the state’s perch catch quota as prescribed
annually by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. Sport anglers in
Ohio’s western basin last year exceeded their catch quota by more
than 20 percent, despite a mid-season drop in the bag limit from 40
to 30, which was also an unprecedented move at the time.

The entire perch catch quota for the western basin in 2007 was
833,000 pounds with commercial trap-netters taking just under their
216,000-pound allotment.

Without any action for 2008, “we think we would be 15 to 20
percent over the (perch) management quota with sportfishing alone,”
Petering said.

Two bag limit reductions for sport anglers in as many years is
far from ideal, Petering said.

“But, it’s what we have to do to sit with our other partners at
the table and say ‘we saw this coming and we did something about
it,’” he said. “We would expect the same from them.”

Contentious legislation that went into effect Oct. 1 governing
the commercial trap-netting industry allows the Division of
Wildlife “to move commercial units around to where populations are
the healthiest,” Petering said. Thus, the proposed move of the
commercial fleet from the western to the central basin.

The Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is
expected to make its quota recommendation March 18 in Niagara
Falls, N.Y. The committee is made up of Lake Erie fisheries
managers from Ohio, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania and

The bottom line, Petering said, is that perch fishing has been
good and spring hatches have not followed suit.

Lake Erie experienced poor hatches for both perch and walleye in
2004, 2005 and 2006, the wildlife division has said.

“2007 was not great, but it was the kind of hatch that if you
have them consistently you can manage things,” Petering said.

The hope is that the 2007 class of perch will help bolster
fishing stocks that have relied heavily over the past several
seasons on 2003 year-class fish.

“Because the 2007 hatch was better, those fish will recruit and
maybe give us some relief, so this is hoped to be a one-year
change,” he said. “But, that’s conjecture right now.”

The walleye bag limit of four from March 1 through April 30 and
six the rest of the year does not appear to be in jeopardy, at
least for 2008. Walleye, however, is on a closely watched
management radar for 2009.

“Again, we know we’ve got some help coming with the 2007 (year
class) but those fish won’t reach the minimum (15-inch keeper
length) until 2010,” Petering said. “2009 is a question. A lot of
it depends on what the fishing is like this year.”

Commercial fishing operators have vowed to make their opinions
known at the state fish and wildlife hearing at 9 a.m. on March 6,
where this rule and others will be open for public discussion. The
Ohio Wildlife Council, after considering this public input, is
scheduled to vote April 2 at 6 p.m.

Open houses will be held on Sunday, March 2 in each of the
state’s five wildlife district offices to provide the public an
opportunity to view and discuss proposed hunting and trapping
regulations with state wildlife officials.

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