DEC looks at softening baitfish regs

Albany – DEC_is looking at relaxing its baitfish regulations,
which are currently among the most stringent in the nation.

That possibility comes on the heels of a meeting with a group
known as the Lake Erie Civilian Baitfish Group, which is looking at
some loosening of the baitfish transport regulations put into
effect in 2006 to protect against the spread of viral hemorrhagic
septicemia (VHS) and other fish-borne diseases.

“They (the group) want a red line drawn around Lake Erie where
they can move bait – similar to what Ohio and Pennsylvania have
done,”_DEC_Fisheries Bureau Chief Steve Hurst said.

Currently, anglers are prohibited from transporting
“uncertified” bait – bait that’s not been tested and determined to
be disease-free – over land by vehicle and can only be used on the
water from which it was caught. The bait dealer is required to
provide a receipt that names the water body in which the
uncertified bait fish can be used and a warning to the purchaser
that the baitfish may not be transported by car or other motorized
vehicle.

The regulation has had its greatest impact in western New York,
where emerald shiners are used by anglers and caught and sold by
numerous bait dealers along the Niagara River and Lake Erie.

The group says the tightened restrictions have created an
economic hardship for bait dealers along Lake Erie that previously
caught and sold their own emerald shiners. Some are ready to shut
down and others are for sale, they contend.

The Lake Erie Civilian Baitfish Group wants DEC to consider
changing the current regulations to allow the transport of baitfish
by vehicle within a “buffer zone” along the Interstate 90 (New York
State Thruway) corridor – from Niagara Falls to the Pennsylvania
state border and west of Interstate 90.

Hurst, however, says that could be “a dangerous road to go down”
from a regulations standpoint.

“I don’t really want to cut up the state into a mosaic,” he
said. “If we do it out there, what about Oneida Lake?_They have
emerald shiners. What about the Hudson_River and herring? What
about Lake Champlain, where Vermont has similar regulations?”

But creating some type of buffer zone and loosening the baitfish
regulations in western New York hasn’t been ruled out, either.

At the June meeting with the baitfish group, DEC_Assistant
Director of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources Doug Stang said the
regulation was in place to stop “fish to fish” transmission of VHS
– the primary manner in which the fish-killing disease is spread.
Stang also wondered whether sportsmen and women would abide by the
new rules if they were softened.

Hurst said a solid outreach program would be necessary if such a
loosened restriction were to work.

“We would have to trust the anglers, and we would need their
help on this,” Hurst said. “This is new territory for us, and the
sportsmen would have to help through peer pressure and
outreach.”

Hurst said fisheries staff within DEC have differing views on
the issue. “It’s a very divisive issue within the Bureau,” he said.
“Some of our (fisheries) managers are saying, ‘no way’ (to loosened
baitfish regulations), and I can understand that.”

He added that he wants to bring DEC’s law enforcement division
into the discussion to determine what kind of enforcement
challenges may result from any changes in the baitfish regulations.
“We’re looking at all our regulations (that were implemented in
2006). Once you implement them, it’s good to evaluate them, and
they’ve been out there for three years now,” he said. “It’s not
just VHS; the baitfish regulations in place now had been talked
about before VHS even came along.”

Hurst said a recommendation on any proposed changes to the
baitfish regulations could be made by the end of the year.

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