Rulemaking process helps Erie bag

Columbus – A new rule-making process is largely responsible for
maintaining the Lake Erie walleye bag limit.

The DNR_Division of Wildlife last year decided it would make bag
limits effective on May 1, after it received the Total Allowable
Catch data from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

In years past, the Lake Erie bag limits would have been set last
summer to go into effect in March. Had this been the case this
year, the walleye bag limit likely would have shrunk by at least
one fish, said Ray Petering, chief fisheries administrator for the
Division of Wildlife.

“If we would have had to make a call last summer, we would have
probably set a more conservative limit, four or five fish
probably,” he said.

The TAC_for Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie was 1.1 million fish,
allowing the division to maintain the walleye bag limit at six and
four.

But, the future is anything but bright.

“We’re slowly running out of fish up there,”_Petering said. “We
have got to get a (good) hatch. If we don’t, I_cannot imagine that
we could hang in at six and four in 2011.”

The popular theory, Petering said, is that you had to have a
good ice cover on the lake through the winter months in order to
make a good hatch.

“We had that big time,” Petering said. “The month of February
was just incredible. So, if there’s anything to that, then this
will be the year.”

Wildlife administrators are counting on it.

“Sooner or later, you would think the law of averages would
catch up to you,” he said. “If you take 2004 through 2009 and lined
them up with the past 30 years, you can’t find lower (hatch)
numbers.”

As it stands right now, Lake Erie is surviving on the 2003 hatch
and some from the 2007 class. It’s not enough to sustain a world
class fishery over the long haul.

“We are doing the best that we can do with the science in hand
and the data at our disposal,” he said. “There are a lot of people
who think it’s a real easy fix.

“It’s a balance,” Petering said. “That lake supports such an
incredible tourism industry up there and it’s an economic driver
for the state of Ohio. So, you have to base your decisions on the
best science.”

It will be an important year on the lake, Petering said.

“There’s a lot of information to be collected in 2010,” he said.
“How many fish we actually catch this year, what catch rates look
like, whether we get a (good) hatch or not this spring will all go
into the soup of what next year will look like.”

Catch rates are expected to dip a bit this year, but still be
respectable.

“2006 and 2007 provided some of the highest catch rates we’ve
ever seen up there,” he said. “It started to slide in 2008 and slid
further in 2009 and I expect we’ll see the same thing this year.
It’s still a respectable catch rateā€¦ but Lake Erie has always set
the bar extremely high. It creates an expectation.

“A bad day on Lake Erie is still a lot better than a lot of
other places in the country,” he said.

Yellow perch on the other hand will see an increase in the bag
limit in some parts of the lake. The lakewide bag limit was
restored to 30 for this coming season and there likely will be some
commercial fishing in the western basin, the first time in three
years that has happened.

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