Tighter ‘laker’ limits for Superior anglers
Madison — Lake trout sportfishing restrictions for the eastern section of Lake Superior (WI-2) were adjusted by the Natural Resources Board (NRB) at its Dec. 14, 2016, meeting because of declining numbers and an estimated 38-percent loss to hooking mortality on released fish.
The board adopted an emergency rule for sport anglers in the Apostle Islands area that allows for a two-fish bag limit, with a 15-inch size limit, but only one of those fish may be longer than 25 inches.
The limit had been three lake trout per day.
The emergency rule does separate lake trout from the current Lake Superior five trout daily bag limit. Anglers will be able to keep up to two (east of Bark Point, only one longer than 25 inches) or three (west of Bark Point) lake trout per day, as well as up to five other trout per day.
In the past, lake trout had been part of the five-trout daily bag.
In addition, the sport harvest will be curtailed if the estimated catch reaches 75 percent of the allowed harvest or “quota,” which is set at 9,800 fish. If anglers keep 7,350 fish, the lake trout harvest will be shut down.
The rule also continues the prohibition of commercial fishing in the Gull Island refuge while allowing commercial fishing in the Hagen’s Beach area from June through August. Some limited commercial fishing had been allowed in the Gull Island refuge up to this point.
Todd Kalish, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Bureau of Fisheries assistant director, reiterated that the state has to manage Lake Superior for several interests, including sport anglers, tribal anglers, and tribal and state commercial fishermen.
“We work collaboratively with these interests, other states and the federal government to develop a sustainable lake trout harvest,” Kalish said.
Lake trout have been declining in Lake Superior. The DNR began a quota for sport fishermen in 2015.
Although fishermen haven’t reached the quota in the last two years, Kalish said that biologists believe hooking mortality of fish released by sport anglers may now be as high as 38 percent.
The DNR has to take that mortality into account in its estimate of the allowable harvest.
The DNR discussed several potential regulations with anglers. The regulation most favored by anglers was a bag limit of two lake trout, with a size limit of 15 inches – and only one fish over 25 inches.
However this option includes some risk that 75 percent of the quota may be reached and fishing could then be closed.
The regulation also continues the closure of the Gull Island refuge to commercial fishing. DNR believes the area is critical for lake trout spawning and trout must be protected. However, Hagen’s Beach area will continue to be open to commercial fishing as well as to sport fishing.
Fred Prehn, NRB member from Wausau, asked whether commercial fishermen would continue to catch lake trout if the sport fishermen are curtailed from fishing at 75 percent of the harvest.
The DNR tried to explain that although commercial fishing would not close, the commercial fishermen already have a restriction that started at the beginning of the season.
While sport anglers are monitored by creel, commercial fishermen are allotted tags at the beginning of the year. When they use up their tags they are done fishing.
Gary Zimmer, NRB member from Rhinelander, said the DNR hasn’t been educating fishermen about ways to reduce hooking mortality, and he encouraged the DNR to do so.
“We want (lake trout) to survive,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer also suggested that conservation wardens should use discretion and allow anglers to try and resuscitate fish by placing them in their livewell and then release the fish, which is currently not legal.
Prehn concurred, saying, “It’s hard for sport fishermen to accept that 38 percent kill rate of fish unhooked and released.”
Prehn said the DNR should allow anglers to hold and release fish coming up from long depths.
Terry Margineau, the DNR’s Lake Superior supervisor, said the population of lake trout was at a critical point this summer. The past three years included lower quotas. This coming summer the biological team will make another projection for the next three years and they hope to see an upswing in lake trout abundance.
Board members asked the DNR to look at ways to help reduce the 38 percent hooking mortality.
The lake trout hook-and-line season opened Dec. 1, 2016, and runs through Sept. 30. The commercial fishing season is Nov. 28, 2016, through Sept. 30.
The board also adopted several “housekeeping” wildlife regulations that include minor changes.
The changes include:
• Allowing a deaf hunter to use an electronic turkey call.
• Allow up to 10 people to apply as a group for turkey tags, rather than just four people.
• Eliminate the reference to the material that a foot-hold trap is made of (steel) so that modern traps made of other materials may also be used.
• Clarify that illegal possession of a protected animal includes possession of the animal’s carcass.
• Highlight that porcupines are an unprotected species.
• Clarify that modern archery gear used for hunting will not cause a person to be in violation of the prohibition of marking and releasing wild animals.
• Relax regulations for dove hunting in the special use zone at Bong State Recreation Area so that hunters only have to be within 25 feet of an assigned blind, rather than the previous 10 feet. This will allow four people to hunt at the blind rather than just three.
• Clarify that all “for fee” hunting is illegal with DNR-issued shooting permits. Currently, some people charge fees for guiding in agricultural damage permit situations.
• Repeal most requirements for taking possession of a car-killed deer and acknowledge that car-killed turkey and bear may be taken into possession. This was changed by statute and now requires a driver to call the DNR hotline to possess a car-killed deer and contact a local sheriff before removing a car-killed turkey or bear. The wording changes in DNR rules will now be in conformance with the statutes that are in effect.