Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Commercial harvest of whitefish allowed to increase

MADISON – Commercial fishermen can increase their harvest of whitefish from Lake Michigan under changes approved Dec. 14, 2009, by the state Natural Resources Board.

The approved increase in commercial harvest would allow commercial fishermen to catch 410,001 more pounds more of whitefish, a 16.6 percent increase. The total allowable annual harvest would increase from 2,470,000 pounds to 2,880,001 pounds. The increase, the first since 1999, would be split equally among the three commercial fishing zones in the lake.

The proposed rules now have to undergo Legislative committee review before they can be published and take effect.

“Since the sea lamprey was brought under control, whitefish populations have done well,” he said. The population appears to be stable or growing, and it is the only commercial species that’s held up well in lake Michigan over time, particularly as invasive species have significantly changed the ecosystem and the food fish have available to them.

Horns said that the DNR is conservative in setting harvest numbers and that the modeling shows the whitefish population is able to accommodate the increase in commercial harvest. And the department is changing its angler surveys, or “creel” surveys, to get more precise estimates of sport angler harvest.

DNR fisheries staff will continue to monitor whitefish to understand why the fish, though abundant, are growing to a catchable size more slowly, and to measure the take of recreational anglers.

The final approved changes differ from a proposal the Department of Natural Resources took out to public hearings earlier this fall that would not have divided the increase equally among three zones, but would have used the same proportions used in the past to allocate the overall commercial whitefish harvest, according to Bill Horns, the Department of Natural Resources fish biologist who led work on the rule quota change.

More information about the commercial whitefish harvest quota can be found in this background memo provided to Natural Resources Board members. http://dnr.wi.gov/org/nrboard/2009/December/12-09-3B1.pdf.

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