Thursday, January 26th, 2023
Thursday, January 26th, 2023

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Lake Erie hatch again looks to be a notch below par

Sandusky, Ohio – Lake Erie’s coveted walleye apparently have
produced another lackluster hatch that promises to keep the
species’ stocks in the doldrums for at least several more
years.

The number-crunching on telltale July survey trawls by DNR
Division of Wildlife fisheries crews showed well below-average
numbers of young-of-year fry in the test nets, according to Jeff
Tyson, supervisor of the state’s Lake Erie Fisheries Research
Station at Sandusky.

“The hatch didn’t look too terribly hot,” he said. “It’s not a
complete bust. We did see some fish.”

In an average hatch, such as 2007, test-trawls turn up about 10
walleye fry per hectare, or about 21/2 acres of water on the survey
sites. This July’s trawls netted about 3 fish per hectare,
continuing a too-familiar low-production trend that has plagued the
fishery for six years.

Further trawls will be done this month, but most of the August
trawls simply confirm indications seen in July for a given
year-class.

The news doesn’t necessarily mean that the fishery is in crisis,
only that it is in the low end of what may be a long-term
cycle.

Tyson acknowledged the status of the walleye stock is difficult
to predict. Just two or three good hatches in close proximity and
the lake’s walleye stock could rocket to 60 million or 70 million,
he added. “These stocks do cycle,” he said.

Tyson also noted that the 2003 mega-class was produced from a
standing stock of 23 million, which included 12 million spawners.
So, it does not take 50 million fish to produce a mega-year.

The 2009 stock of 18 million fish includes about nine million
spawners.

The biologist noted that from a sport fishing perspective, total
stock is not nearly as important as good fishing weather and the
fish being in locations that anglers can access. At least, he
added, Ontario with its commercial gill net fleet has been
“onboard” with the Lake Erie Commission harvest strategy and the
crisis-level quota trigger for five years already.

Tyson does not think Ohio will land its 2009 quota of 1.2
million walleyes, given off-and-on weather conditions, reduced
feeding activity during the mayfly hatch in June, and fishing
pressure this spring and summer.

The fishery has been living off the 2003 mega-class, which
produced fry numbers that were off the charts. But from 2004 to
present, only 2007 produced an average number of fish. The 2006
year-class is all but missing in action and the rest in the poor to
fair range.

The 2007 fish are now 13 to 16 inches and turning up on anglers’
hooks in big numbers – some observers think in bigger numbers than
fisheries managers have estimated (Ohio Outdoor News, July 31).
Some 2008 fish, 7 to 9 inches, also are turning up, though in fewer
numbers.

In any case, the lake’s standing walleye stock is not expected
to change much for the better in the near term. For 2009, it was
estimated at 18 million fish, still above what is pegged as crisis
level – 15 million walleyes – by the Lake Erie Committee of the
Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

The LEC will determine the 2010 standing stock and catch-quotas
next March. The committee includes biologists and fishery managers
from Ohio, Ontario, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.

It annually examines data on walleyes and yellow perch, among
other things, and sets conservative quotas on annual total
allowable catches of both species. With walleyes, the LEC has
determined that 15 million is the trigger for cutting commercial
catch-quotas for Ontario and, for Ohio waters, the sport-angling
quota and possibly, in turn, the daily creel limit.

In conjunction with all of the foregoing is a proposal to allow
the chief of wildlife to set creel limits for perch and walleye
after the March LEC catch-quota meetings. As it stands now, Tyson
explained, fisheries managers have to guess each late summer what
the next year’s quota will be in order to set rules ahead of
time.

By being able to wait until after quotas are set, the chief can
establish rules effective May 1 any given year, a much more
reliable process.

The plan has preliminary approval of the Ohio Wildlife Council,
but is subject to public comment and scrutiny of the Joint
Committee for Agency Rule Review before final Council
consideration.

A series of open houses on the plan is set for Aug. 29, noon to
3 p.m., at the five district wildlife offices and the Lake Erie
Shores and Islands Welcome Center-West in Port Clinton.

The basic concept of the proposal is to keep intact a daily
four-walleye limit in March and April, the spawning season, and a
six-limit the rest of the calendar. Only when the LEC determines
that the standing stock has fallen below the 15 million
crisis-level would more severe creel limits be considered.

Tyson said the four-and-six limits usually will result in about
1.5 million walleyes caught, given good stocks and good weather in
a given year. Such limits assure that Ohio would not exceed its
annual quota and are acceptable with the fishing public.

He said eight years’ worth of creel surveys have gone into the
data pool that is being used to create a still-to-be-set table of
action-levels for setting limits.

“It gets past the business of having to look into a crystal ball
and guess what the quotas are going to be,” he said.

As for the yellow perch side of things, Tyson said their stocks
are in much better shape compared to those of walleyes. They are
“pretty stable” in the central basin and “rebuilding” in the
western basin, he said, adding he expects the daily creel limit for
perch to return to 30 lakewide next year. It currently is at 25 in
the western basin.

“We’ll know for sure next March,” he said.

For perch, a total annual catch-quota for Ohio of two million
pounds, set by the LEC, would be a standard cut-off for the
30-perch sport limits, divided according to the three fishing
districts. The western quota would be 800,000 pounds, and the
west-central and east-central district each 600,000 pounds.

If the predetermined crisis level was reached in any given
district, the creel limit therein would be appropriately
reduced.

Reprinted by permission of The Blade of Toledo, August 2009.

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