Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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New panfish bag, size limits now under review

Waupaca, Wis. — Anglers may not be interested in major changes to Wisconsin’s panfish regulations, but they appear to be willing to consider tighter regulations on specific lakes deemed by the DNR to have overharvest issues.

The state DNR held public meetings in August and September to get input on proposed panfish regulation options. About 40 people attended one of the hearings – Sept. 3 in Waupaca. Other meetings were held Aug. 26 in Minocqua and Sept. 4 in Waukesha.

The DNR is proposing three experimental regulations on 110 lakes statewide:

• 25/10. Under this plan, anglers could keep a total of 25 panfish, but no more than 10 of any single species.
• 15/5. Under this plan, anglers could keep a total of 15 panfish, but no more than five of any single species.
• 25/five over 7 inches. This rule would allow a total of 25 panfish, but no more than five sunfish (bluegills and pumpkinseeds) could be longer than 7 inches.

The list of 110 lakes includes bodies of water in Adams, Eau Claire, Florence, Forest, Iron, Kenosha, Langlade, Lincoln, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marinette, Oneida, Portage, Price, Racine, Rusk, Sawyer, Shawano, Sheboygan, Taylor, Vilas, Walworth, Washington, Waupaca, and Waushara counties.

The DNR randomly assigned one of the three options to each lake. Each option includes lakes of various sizes.

“This is a product of a few years of work,” said Jon Hansen, at the Waupaca meeting. Hansen is the coordinator of the DNR’s panfish management team. “We’re here to listen to you and answer your questions. We’re not proposing to change things statewide.”

“We have a lot of folks out there asking, ‘What can we do?’ ” said Al Niebur, the DNR’s fisheries biologist for Waupaca and Shawano counties.

The DNR has been gathering input from anglers the past two years, according to Hansen.

“All of that is going into the development of a panfish management plan,” he said.

Nearly 3,500 people responded to a survey earlier this year, and others attended various meetings around the state.

“There’s a lot of support and interest in doing more habitat work, but habitat work is really expensive,” Hansen said. “We chose to focus on (harvest regulations) because of timing.”

Do restrictive regulations work? Hansen believes they can.

“On average, the majority of people take home very few fish,” he said. “For a regulation to be effective, it has to change behavior. You actually have to change the behavior of anglers.”

A handful of lakes in the Birchwood area of northwestern Wisconsin have had a 10-fish daily panfish bag limit for years.

“It’s kind of unclear which regulations will be the most effective,” Hansen said. “From 25 bluegills to 10 is a big change.”

The third option – 25 panfish, but only five longer than 7 inches – will probably be the least effective of the three new options, Hansen said.

“This one hurts the least, but will probably be the least effective,” he said. “It does require anglers to measure bluegills, which I’ve heard there’s some apprehension about.”

The DNR plans to fine-tune the proposal during September before presenting it to the state Natural Resources Board in December. It will be included as a question at next year’s spring fish and wildlife rules hearings, and any changes will not take effect until 2016.

“We know this is a fairly aggressive proposal,” Hansen said. “This is a tool in our toolbox to make (panfish angling) better.”

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