Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Lake Erie panel again lowers catch quotas

Sandusky, Ohio – Expect to see commercial fishing nets in the
western basin of Lake Erie this summer, but they will not be
landing yellow perch.

And expect to see the daily sport angler creel limit on perch
there to drop from 30 to 25, as forecast, come July 1.

Those changes, under discussion among state fisheries managers
since at least January, appear likely now that the Lake Erie
Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission formally has
lowered the lakewide allowable catch for 2008. The committee
significantly lowered the lakewide walleye take as well, though
that action is not likely to affect sport limits this year.

The lowered allowances for both species are responses to poor
walleye and yellow perch year-classes in 2002, 2004 and 2006, and a
below-average class in 2007, all of which translates into declining
stocks and increasing anxiety over the need for good hatches this
year.

“Commercial fishermen still can net white perch, white bass,
channel catfish and carp” noted Jeff Tyson, supervisor of Lake Erie
fish management and research for the DNR Division of Wildlife. “But
they will not be able to land (yellow) perch.”

The commercial fishing season for yellow perch opens May 1 on
the lake, and Tyson said that the division intends to follow what
is known as Policy 2 under increased authority and control over
netters granted by Senate Bill 77, which was passed last fall.

The state annually receives catch quotas on yellow perch and
walleye, which represents its share of the available stocks, as set
by cooperative agreement under the GLFC. Policy 2 in turn dictates
that first priority in the catch quota goes to the sport fishery,
and if there is a forecast surplus, then it is assigned to the
commercial fishery. No commercial taking of walleye has been
allowed in Ohio waters of the lake for some 25 years, since deadly
gill nets were banned here.

The state’s annual catch quota is further subdivided by basin,
with the western basin – the center for most sport fishing activity
– allotted just 700,000 pounds for yellow perch. A year ago, sport
anglers and netters combined to take 980,000 pounds of perch from
the basin, some 20 percent over the quota of 833,000 pounds. Sport
anglers alone took more than 800,000 pounds of the total.

Lakewide, the perch allocation by the GLFC was reduced from
11.39 million pounds in 2007 to 10.16 million pounds this year. An
area-based sharing formula gives Ohio about 4.39 million pounds and
Ontario 4.861 million pounds, with the rest split among the other
three states (Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York).

The lakewide allowance compares to an actual landing of about
9.69 million pounds a year ago.

Failure to do something about adhering to quotas could lead to a
fishing war with Ontario, the other major player in the lake
fisheries and which is ruled by a large fleet of commercial netters
and a relative dearth of sport anglers. The province, plus
Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, all sit on the GLFC and its
lake committee.

Given such realities, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s fisheries
managers have been scrambling when it came to setting sport-catch
rules for 2008.

Tyson noted that the existing lakewide 30-perch daily limit is
forecast to land 750,000 to 800,000 pounds of perch in the western
basin, well in excess of the quota. That is the reason that the
Ohio Wildlife Council is likely to approve the 25-limit on April 2,
with an effective date of July 1 – well in time for the big
late-summer and fall perching season, and why the few trap netters
allowed to take perch in the basin will have to shift their fishing
to waters east of Huron.

The central basin perch stock and quota typically can withstand
the shift in pressure.

On the walleye front, Tyson is forecasting that Ohio anglers
will take about 1.4 million fish, well below the 2007 catch of 2.1
million. The reduction reflects the fact that the fishery has been
living off the 2003 mega-class, and it grows smaller by the year
because of natural mortality and fishing.

This year’s 2003 fish should be dandies – 20- to 24-inchers. But
Tyson said, fish “tend to move east” as the post-spawning season
progresses.

“If it stays cool this summer in the west end, those fish will
stay here and we’ll likely be pushing right against the quota,” he
said.

That is almost 1.85 million walleye for Ohio out of a lakewide
allowance of almost 3.6 million. The lakewide allowance in 2007 was
5.36 million and the actual harvest was almost 4.49 million.

Tyson said he could not yet predict what may happen with sport
limits on walleye for 2009. But it is clear the fishery is
declining and in need of another solid year-class this year. But
even then, 2008 fish will not enter the catchable stock at 15
inches until 2010.

Hovering in the background on both the yellow perch and walleye
stocks is the million-dollar question over the degree of impact of
fishing on the stocks. That is, whether fishing, even under quotas,
simply crops off surplus stock that would die naturally anyway, or
whether it eats into the meat of a stock’s productive
potential.

“There is a big debate in the fisheries community over whether
fishing is compensatory (cropping surplus) or additive (eating up
principal),” said Tyson. “We’re operating on the assumption that
it’s both, because it hasn’t been resolved.”

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