Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Wide-ranging 10-year Lake Michigan plan passed; Wisconsin DNR focuses on ‘tactics’

Minocqua, Wis. — The Natural Resources Board (NRB), at its meeting Sept. 27, approved the 10-year Lake Michigan Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for 2017 to 2026 that covers every species from the smallest – alewives and yellow perch – to the largest – muskies and king salmon.

The plan also focused on five broad goals:

  • A diverse, balanced and healthy ecosystem
  • A diverse multi-species sport fishery
  • A sustainable and viable commercial fishery
  • Employing principles of science-based management
  • Effective internal and external communication

Brad Eggold, the DNR’s Great Lakes district fisheries supervisor, said the DNR has three ways of accomplishing those goals.

“We will work with other programs to provide the best ecosystem for Lake Michigan fishes, such as encouraging the use of buffer strips by riparian landowners,” Eggold said.

Other DNR actions will include field activities, such as evaluating habitat limitations at dams, and encouraging actions by the NRB.

Eggold said that the old plan had 175 tactics, and DNR completed 137, or 78 percent.

“The new plan has over 150 tactics, and I am confident that we will be able to work on the vast majority of them,” he said.

Gary Zimmer, board member from Rhinelander, said that this plan is extremely important for the next 10 years, with limited funding and staffing available.

“This is a challenging task for sure, managing that whole system and how it is integrated with all of the other states involved,” he said.

Zimmer said a third group of resource users should be identified in the plan: “We always seem to talk about commercial fishing versus sport fishing, but there is a third category to be considered – the commercial sport fishery.”

Zimmer said charter boat captains are also using the resource and making money. He thought charter boats have the ability to place more of an impact on the resource. When the DNR blends sport fishing and the commercial sport fishery together, “the little guy loses out. Most of the quotas are met, as we’ve seen on Lake Superior, most of that quota is not from the little guy who goes out once are twice a year, but by the charter boats who know how to fish and can pound and locate the resource,” Zimmer said.

Plan tactics

The plan acknowledges that state and federal pollution prevention measures and habitat protection initiatives are instrumental in restoring fish populations.

One of the problems that continues to plague the lake are invasive species, which have limited Lake Michigan’s fishery from reaching its full potential.

Regarding the need for a diverse and balanced ecosystem, the DNR proposes to restore and enhance spawning and nursery habitat, focusing on walleyes, sturgeon, northern pike, Great Lakes spotted muskies, whitefish, yellow perch, and smallies.

One of the problems is that critical shoreline and shallow water habitat needed by native fish species has been lost as the shoreline becomes more urbanized.

Small streams, used for spawning, also were degraded with wetland drainage and steam channelization.

Increasing the potential for Lake Michigan tributaries to boost trout and salmon reproduction involves proper in-stream habitat and watershed management practices.

Protecting and restoring native species will include several actions, such as implementing a lake trout strategy for Lake Michigan, cooperating with UW-Milwaukee in conducting life history studies to take on factors limiting natural reproduction, and working with other agencies to evaluate observations for successful natural lake trout reproduction.

Work to restore self-sustaining walleye populations include assessing reproduction in Green Bay and Lake Michigan tributaries and developing a cool-water isolation facility to raise a Lake Michigan strain of walleyes.

Restoring a self-sustaining spotted muskie population to Green Bay will involve implementing the Green Bay Great Lakes Spotted Muskellunge Plan, including importing eggs or fish to establish populations in brood stock lakes.

DNR will continue to collect muskie eggs from the Fox River, brood stock lakes, and other states for Green Bay.

DNR wants to develop a cool-water isolation facility that will produce stocking quotas for the strain of muskies, since viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) prevents using current facilities.

Lake Michigan yellow perch numbers continue to be of concern, following dramatic declines beginning in the 1990s. The plan calls for continuing young-of-year and adult perch abundance surveys and developing criteria for changing sport fishing perch harvest limits in the southern regions.

To sustain a salmon and trout species mix for sport fishing, the plan calls for maintaining appropriate salmon and trout stocking levels guided by harvest targets and forage abundance. Another tactic will be working to minimize incidental loss of forage species, such as alewives and bloater chubs, in water intakes and commercial trawls.

Lake-wide sport fishing surveys will continue. DNR will work with the charter industry to design a way to determine harvest reporting accuracy.

Commercial fishing is addressed by investigating alternate funding sources to cover Lake Michigan commercial fisheries management.

The plan calls for improving population models used to estimate commercial fish abundance, and refining techniques to assess juvenile whitefish abundance.

The plan says it will provide better access for staff to scientific literature and invest in more modern fisheries management technology.

Bill Bruins, board member from Waupun, expressed concern about the vision that included a sustainable “and viable” commercial fishery. He said “viable” was of concern, realizing that recent discussions over gill nets in the lake will have an influence over viability.

Eggold said the “viability” language was mandated by the legislature. Kurt Thiede, DNR deputy secretary, said viability will be discussed with the commercial fishing boards.

Fred Prehn, board member from Wausau, wondered about the funding for the plan activities and was concerned that if progress is slow on the plan the NRB won’t know until the end of the 10 years. Prehn made a motion requiring the DNR to give the NRB an interim status report in five years.

The new plan drew unanimous support from NRB members.

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