Brad Eggold, Great Lakes district fisheries supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said the new rule would:
· Expand Lake Michigan lake trout harvest opportunities to a daily bag limit of five.
· Include the five fish daily lake trout limit as part of the overall five trout and salmon combined daily bag limit.
· Maintain closure of refuges, which are supporting some natural reproduction.
· Offer a continuous open season.
· Maintain the commitment to lake-wide lake trout restoration and promotion of a diverse salmon and trout fishery through continued assessment of lake trout restoration goals and impacts of management actions on those goals.
The emergency rule was developed following an extensive angler engagement process that included seven public meetings convened by the department with total attendance of 500. DNR fisheries managers also participated in numerous angler group meetings to discuss the changing Lake Michigan ecosystem and stocking strategies to improve the balance of predators with record low levels of prey fish.
"Based on more than 100 comments from stakeholders, we believe the option to harvest up to five lake trout per day will expand recreational opportunities while reducing predation pressure on alewives," Eggold said "We intend to monitor the harvest through the duration of the emergency rule and use the information to develop a permanent rule. Given the current data on lake trout populations and harvest activity in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan, we do not believe the increased bag limit will jeopardize long-term restoration efforts."
During 2016, the Lake Michigan lake trout harvest totaled 19,137 fish, down 46 percent from 35,715 in 2015. The lake trout sport harvest has remained at or below levels considered necessary for recovery of the species since 1998.
While pursuit of lake trout may not be the primary motivator for anglers who head out with their own equipment or hire charters on Lake Michigan, the opportunity to catch more lake trout including the possibility of a trophy fish is likely to generate additional interest in the prized fishery. Each year, Wisconsin's Great Lakes fishing opportunities draw some 178,000 anglers (as measured by the sale of the Great Lakes Salmon and Trout stamp) who contribute some $114.3 million to the economy, according to the American Sportfishing Association.
The lake trout emergency rule now moves forward for consideration by Gov. Scott Walker. Pending this approval, DNR will hold concurrent public hearings for the emergency rule and planned permanent rule in anticipation that the emergency rule will take effect during the 2017 season.
To view a recent presentation on Lake Michigan lake trout that informed development of the rule, visit dnr.wi.gov and search "Lake Michigan Fisheries Forum." For more information including recent presentations on broader Lake Michigan management topics, search "Lake Michigan salmon and trout meetings."