Anglers will get a say at perch summit

In addition to bluegill and crappies, a slew of perch also were in Stanley Paalksnis' possession.

Chicago — In a discussion many anglers have been waiting for, Lake Michigan’s troubled yellow perch population will be the topic of a public forum next month.

The Lake Michigan Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission is hosting the event, called the “Lakewide Lake Michigan Yellow Perch Summit,” which will be held March 22 at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“It’s been 15 years since big changes were made to the regulations,” said Marc Gaden, communications director for the commission. “The fishery has improved but has not met the expectations we hoped for when we closed the commercial fishery years ago. … It will be an assessment of the science, state of the resource and public opinion to inform the road forward.”

Yellow perch arouse passion in Chicago, where fishing has been closed in Illinois waters in July since 2001 (a subsequent regulation change opened it up to children in 2005).

Vic Santucci, DNR’s Lake Michigan program manager, said the summit will offer a regional, or lakewide, look at the yellow perch fishery.

“It’s a multi-jurisdictional fishery,” said Santucci. “The fish don’t follow borders. … We need a regional perspective because the fish move around.”

The summit will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the UIC Forum, and attendees will sit through a morning program billed as “informative presentations by invited experts, highlighting the latest science about Lake Michigan ecology and yellow perch populations, fishing, and management.”

That will include recent research that has shown how much perch move around in Lake Michigan and what they are eating now, since exotic mussels have turned the lake into a less productive body of water.

“The fertility in the system has changed,” Santucci said. “In general, most anglers think back to the best fishing they had. It was always better before. In this case, it was [better before]. We have to work within the natural system.”

There figures to be no shortage of comment from anglers during the afternoon session, when participants will be broken into small groups.

Lakefront perch guru Ken Schneider is among those who have been outspoken against the July closure. While he acknowledged the perch numbers seem to be down in 2013, he questioned whether anglers in Chicago would really make much of an impact on the population if July were opened back up.

“June and July are the only two months we can really catch many perch,” said Schneider, who also criticized Illinois for not closing the fishery during the spring spawning period as is done in Wisconsin.

But Santucci said that’s exactly why the two closures have involved either of those months. If the intent is to limit potential harvest, he said, the closure must occur during a period of time when a majority of fish are being caught.

“A perch that isn’t caught in July will be there to spawn the following spring,” Santucci said.

And, around the lake, biologists have documented the same trends.

“We haven’t seen a rebound in the population,” said Santucci. “We have multiple lines of evidence. It’s not just our sampling gear, it’s our creel surveys and our assessment of the fishery.”

The decline was first noticed in the early 1990s. A yellow perch conference was held in December 1994 to alert anglers around the lake. Subsequently, commercial harvest of perch was shut down and recreational harvest around the lake was also reduced.

In Illinois, that meant a harvest slot, from 8 to 10 inches, along with a June closure, from 1997 to 2001. In 2001, the closure shifted to July and the bag limit was dropped from 25 fish to 15 fish.

While anglers from around Lake Michigan are invited, this is the only meeting of its kind being held.

Santucci said the summit was proposed by the Lake Michigan Committee after Illinois DNR Director Marc Miller requested that the jurisdictions around the lake take a look at perch management.

The committee is made up of five members, one each representing the four state bordering Lake Michigan, plus the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority. Santucci is the member representing Illinois.

A Yellow Perch Task Group that had been created to develop and implement a research strategy to expose the causes of declining yellow perch populations was disbanded in the past year, Santucci said.

Gaden said the summit is in addition to another annual meeting of a subcommittee of the Lake Michigan Committee. That committee, the Lake Michigan Technical Committee, will also meet in March.

Registration for the summit is free until March 15, after which a $20 fee will be charged.

Organizers are hoping to hear from anglers, regardless of whether or not they can attend the meeting in person. The meeting will also be broadcast in webinar form for registered participants. To register, go to www.glf.org/lakecom/yp or call 847-294-4134.

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