In the wake of new regs proposals, is it time to restrict captain and mate limits on charters?

At a time when the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is pushing for more restrictive regulations for Lake Ontario fish limits and minimum sizes for trout, it may be time to look at pushing through some type of rule or regulation that restricts charter captains and mates from including their catch in the day’s harvest totals for customers.

DEC is now seeking input from Great Lakes anglers for several proposals that have been put on the table, considerations that were developed through a Lake Ontario Fisheries Management Focus Group. Representatives from stream anglers, recreational anglers and charter captains were all part of the mix as they discussed ways to try and make things better for fishermen and fisherwomen.

Steelhead fishing is always one of the more controversial topics when stream anglers and lake trollers get together in the same room. Stream anglers want to see more fish in the tributaries and see the size of those fish increase. In their mind, the way to accomplish that is to reduce the daily limit for those fish in the lake and to increase the minimum size for steelhead.

A compromise was finally reached when it was decided to go with a two-steelhead limit in the lake (as part of the three-fish salmon and trout aggregate) per person and continue with a 21-inch minimum size. The streams would remain at one fish per day, but the minimum size would increase to 25 inches for steelhead.

Taking it a step further, the brown trout creel limit would also be reduced to one fish per person in streams, with no change in the lake under a third proposal.

Another potential change involves the Niagara River below Niagara Falls and extending out into the lake. Lake trout season is currently Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, closing for the fall spawning. However, the Canadian side of the lower river opens on Dec. 1. It made sense to fisheries managers to open the season a month earlier in the Empire State.

We should point out that the initial request was to allow for catch-and-release fishing from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 only, not an extension of the open season. Lake trout will migrate up the river in the fall because many of these fish call the lower river home. Natural reproduction has been documented in the river since 2011.

Catching lake trout when there are other fish like salmon, steelhead, brown trout and walleye are in these same waters is not a difficult thing to do. They will be caught incidentally whether it’s legal or not. A bigger impact may be to push to reduce the Canadian harvest of these fish by getting them to switch over to catch-and-release in the river in the fall and reduce the daily creel limit of lake trout. Currently, Canadians can keep three lake trout, while New York anglers can keep two daily. New York anglers can also fish year-round in Lake Erie and the Upper Niagara River, with a daily limit of one fish per person.

Province of Ontario regulations for daily limits vary considerably in Lake Ontario from New York’s creel limits. You can keep five brown trout, six bass, five Pacific salmon and four walleyes as compared with New York’s 3, 5, 3 and 3, respectively. If we are co-managing the lake, shouldn’t we all be on the same page?

Which takes us to the main point of the blog’s title. With a push to make things more restrictive as far as creel limits in Lake Ontario, should we also be looking at a law or regulation that does not allow captains and/or mates to keep their limits, too? Currently, it’s a gray area. If they have a fishing license, they are entitled to their own limit of fish.

It’s not the first time that this has been discussed, and once again it was brought to light by members of the charter fishing industry themselves. Professional captains are realizing that the lake and river truly are finite resources and overall numbers can fluctuate from year to year based on hatchery success, natural reproduction, weather, forage base strength and so much more. Keeping extra fish for a captain/mate so that customers can take them home with them should not be allowed.

Area captains point the finger to places like Alaska that do not allow for this to take place when they are on a for-hire charter. Yes, the Great Lakes captain licenses are through the U.S. Coast Guard, a federal license. But they are still operating within the state’s boundaries. It may be time to push something through our elected representatives to try and curb this abuse.

Don’t forget to make comment through the DEC website on the proposed fishing regulations changes. The link is http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/115977.html.

 

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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