Proposal would increase brook trout limit in U.P.

Lansing – A proposal to raise the daily limit of brook trout caught on Upper Peninsula streams is expected to be rolled out in early summer, according to state officials. The proposal doubles the limit from five fish per day to 10 fish per day and reverses the 2000 rule that lowered the limit from 10 to five.

"This is a social issue more than biological issue," said Steve Scott, the Michigan DNR fisheries supervisor for the Newberry and Baraga districts in the Upper Peninsula. "It peaked when gas was four bucks a gallon."

U.P. anglers have complained that they were spending a lot on gas and that most U.P. streams had small brook trout running from 7 inches to 9 inches. Raising the limit to 10 made the trip more worthwhile," according to Scott.

JR Richardson, of Ontonagon, a Natural Resources Commission member, said he and commissioner John Madigan, of Munising, having been pushing for a while to reverse the 2000 decision that lowered the limit. Richardson, also the president of the Upper Peninsula Sport Fishermen Association, said anglers have been complaining ever since the bag limit was lowered.

He told Michigan Outdoor News that he once encountered a couple of guys who were fishing in Ontonagon County. He asked them about their experiences without introducing himself as a commissioner. The two anglers replied that the brook trout fishing was nice, but complained that they could only keep five.

"I told them I had heard that sort of thing before, and that I had fished those rivers as a kid," Richardson said. "Everyone says it's not really a biological issue, so I said, ‘What's stopping us from doing it (raising the limit)?' "

The proposal calls for increasing the limit on Upper Peninsula streams only. State officials say the move will complicate regulations, but acknowledge it will be a minor complication. Fisheries officials have been trying for several years to simplify state fishing regulations. The proposal will go out for public comment in June or July.

The move to reduce the bag limit to five fish in 2000 was driven by anglers who thought five fish was a reasonable daily limit and that a 10-fish limit could wipe out certain stream populations. It also was thought that lowering the limit could result in larger fish.

But fish biologists say that conclusion doesn't bear out. Brook trout are most prevalent in Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula waters. They live in smaller, shallow streams that can freeze. They also are more vulnerable to predation than brown trout and are readily preyed upon by birds, mink, and otters. Thus, they rarely live to grow to larger size.

"A three-year-old brook trout is a really old brook trout," said Brian Gunderman, a fish biologist at the DNR's Plainwell office and the chair of the state's Coldwater Resources Steering Committee, the group that reviews regulations that pertain to trout streams. "Most are one- and two-year-old fish."

Scott said some trout anglers do not support the move to raise the limit, maintaining that five fish is enough.

Gunderman said anglers were split in 2000 over the proposal to lower the limit. Upper Peninsula anglers largely opposed the measure, while Lower Peninsula anglers largely supported it.

"Lower Peninsula anglers generally indicated that five fish was a reasonable bag," Gunderman said. "Upper Peninsula anglers generally did not share that opinion."

Scott said U.P. anglers "like the idea of living off the land. It's something they enjoy and that is the mind-set up here."

State officials say they will be examining the proposal to assess whether it could have an adverse impact on trout populations in Upper Peninsula steams. If that is so, the proposal could be revised or discarded. None, however, are anticipated.

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