WI: Bass culling proposed for tourneys

Madison – Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Okauchee, recently authored a
bill that would allow bass tournament anglers to cull fish, in what
he called an attempt to help stimulate Wisconsin’s economy.
Wisconsin currently does not allow culling.

Culling allows anglers to continue fishing after reaching their bag
limit, and to replace fish in their livewell with larger fish. All
fish are released after weigh-in. Anglers aren’t credited for dead
fish.

“The bill is about economic development in the (state) fishing
industry,” Kleefisch said. “Every surrounding state allows culling,
and we have lost out on several large tournaments to them. That
money could be going into our state instead.”

Kleefisch said the bill is moving along quickly and could be up for
testimony this week.

Large tournament circuits like the FLW and BASS only fish in states
that allow culling, which has caused Wisconsin to lose northern
events to Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan.

Jason Janicsek is a tournament director for the Wisconsin Alliance
of Bass Tournament Anglers (WABTA). He said the rule needs to
change.

“I think allowing culling in Wisconsin is long overdue, and will
put us back on the map for major circuits,” he said. “During the
DNR’s culling study, two big tournaments alone brought in over $2.5
million to two communities that would have otherwise never seen
that money … Does it make sense for us to turn up our noses at
out-of-state money?”

Those two events left Wisconsin during the past five years and went
to other states because Wisconsin revoked the ability to
cull.

“This draconian law was meant for a time when people had sub-par,
if any, livewell systems,” Janicsek said. “That was when people put
their fish on stringers and the fish could not be released safely.
With the complex livewells on today’s boats and the knowledge we
now have on handling fish, they can be released with little or no
bad impacts on the bass.”

To date, there have been some studies on the effects of culling,
and none have proved there to be a major impact on bass. Other
species, like walleyes, for instance, can’t take the stress, but
bass seem to fare much better.

George Meyer, executive director for the Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation, said that group did a survey in 2004 where 61 percent
of those responding were against culling. Meyer said that was
before much research was done on the topic.

“People may have changed their minds since then, but I don’t
believe there would be a drastic difference,” he said. “I don’t
think this has even really been about biological reasoning, but
more about how non-tournament anglers feel that tournament anglers
shouldn’t get to cull when they can’t.”

Meyer said he understood that weekend anglers would be culling to
keep more fish to take home, while tournament anglers would release
fish at the end of the day, but he doesn’t think people voting
against culling cared.

“We will continue to monitor this before we make an official stance
on it,” he said. “I will say that, in general, we do not typically
endorse a rule that has not gone through the spring hearing
process.”

The question regarding culling on the WWF survey was a general
question not specific to bass, as the bill states now. In addition,
the survey did not address whether or not anglers needed to have a
proper livewell in order to cull.

Those scenarios were addressed in a 2007 Bureau of Fisheries
Management Administrative Report by the DNR in an Evaluation of the
Bass Fisheries Tournament Pilot Program.

In the report, a random group of anglers were surveyed, with 51
percent of anglers against, and 49 percent for, culling of bass
when livewells were used.

DNR biologist Jonathan Hansen coordinates the tournament permitting
program. He believes culling is as much of a social issue as it is
a biological one.

“… Culling will inevitably result in some post-release mortality;
however, the likelihood that it will negatively impact the overall
bass population is small.”

Hansen said that due to the way permits are issued, he sees little
reason to worry about culling causing an impact on the
fishery.

“There currently aren’t enough tournaments, in general, to have an
impact on most of our bass populations,” he said. “The post-release
mortality is still a major concern, mainly because it is a waste of
natural resources and one of the many issues creating the
polarization between (sport) anglers and tournament anglers.
Tournaments are often seen in a negative way by non-tournament
anglers and boaters. Most of the tournaments in Wisconsin are run
by groups that do their best not to upset the general public and
maintain good standards for releasing fish.”

Hansen said that if larger events did come if culling were allowed,
work with local lake associations or the DNR could go a long way
toward acceptance.

“I think one thing they could do would be to hire people to check
the tournament boats for invasive species,” he said. “I’m not
saying the tournament guys are more likely to spread these
diseases, but they do fish lots of different waters within and
beyond Wisconsin. It would be good idea to have a trained third
party inspecting boats. They could also consider working with …
municipalities and the DNR to invest in wash stations like the ones
we have on Shawano Lake. Offers like that would be very welcome,
I’m sure, and better than offering to help stock the lake with more
bass, for instance. Our lakes, for bass, don’t need extra bass put
in them.”

Currently, the DNR does not have a stance on the culling
bill.

Dan Brovarney, of Wauwatosa, has lobbied the DNR and the
Legislature for years to allow culling, and is hoping that now is
the time.

“There is very little impact in terms or mortality when it comes to
bass that have been culled,” Brovarney said. “If there was data
that proved culling or tournament fishing had a noticeable negative
effect on the bass population, I would quit fishing tournaments,
but there just isn’t proof.”

Brovarney also said people needn’t worry about massive amounts of
tournaments showing up in Wisconsin.

“There are only a few areas that can handle big tournaments,” he
said. “Millions of dollars would be injected into those areas with
out-of-state money. Areas like La Crosse, Prairie du Chien, the
Wolf River, or Sturgeon Bay could handle big tournaments and could
easily see a couple million per event. Those areas are in desperate
need for more business.”

Most “big” tournaments include 50 to 100 boats. Media, sponsors,
and manufacturers create the heaviest traffic.

Joe Weiss, of Spooner, is a Conservation Congress Warm Water
Committee member. He’s not a fan of tournaments, but isn’t against
culling.

“I personally don’t like fishing tournaments,” Weiss said. “I don’t
like the fact that they are using a resource for getting money or
trophies. But I’m also not saying that someone doesn’t have the
right to fish a tournament if they are legal.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of the Conservation Congress on this,
as they have not made a statement about culling, but I don’t think
it would be a big problem … if culling were allowed so long as it
was done properly, with the right equipment,” he said.

According to tournament officials, if the Legislature approves the
measure this year, bass culling events could be held as soon as
2012.

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