Friday, March 25, 2011

Decision time: Lake Erie walleye/perch limits to stay the same

The Great Lakes Fisheries Commission did what few anglers thought would happen: Maintain the status quo on Lake Erie-caught walleye and yellow perch.

Meeting Thursday and today, the Commission recommended that there be no changes in daily bag limits for Lake Erie-caught walleye and yellow perch for Ohio this coming year.

“It makes me happy because I didn’t want to be the guy who told anglers, charter captains and bait dealers that there would be cuts in the daily bag limits,” said Ray Petering, the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s fisheries administrator. “As far as the population thresholds, we’re above that mark that would have triggered a bag limit change; maybe not above as much as we’d like but still above them.”

Petering said also that as his staff began crunching numbers he could get a sense of what things were shaping up to be but that “until everyone comes together you really can’t say.”

“The we got to the meeting the more we thought we could stay with we’ve got,” Petering said.

Thus, the daily bag limit for Lake Erie-caught walleye will remain at four and six with the switch to the larger bag coming occurring May 1. And perch anglers will be able to keep 30 fish per through all of Ohio’s waters, Petering said as well.

“Of course we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that as the fish enter the spawning season we’ll see a good hatch and if we can get another one that would be three of the past five years of at least meeting the long-term average. That would be good news for the future of Lake Erie walleye fishing,” Petering said.

In terms of specifics, the total Lake Erie-wide total allowable catch (TAC) for walleye was set today at 2.919 million fish and for yellow perch, 12.651 million pounds.

These TACs are similar to last year’s levels and are based on extensive biological assessments and analysis by Canadian and American fishery agencies, the Commission says.

“For both yellow perch and walleye, the committee is moving forward on a revision of fisheries policies and guidelines for the future. The intent is to fully engage all stakeholders throughout that process,” the Commission reported in a just-released press statement.

“The relative constancy of both the walleye and yellow perch TACs reflects the committee’s interest in providing stability to fisheries as we develop revised walleye and yellow perch harvest policies, with input from stakeholders,” also said Lake Erie Committee chair Don Einhouse of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We understand that in certain areas, the biological risk at these levels of harvest may increase, but will not threaten the sustainability of the resource as we transition to new policies.”

For Lake Erie charter captain Jim Schonauer of Mentor, the economics of maintaining the status quo will help greatly especially with the expected rise in fuel costs.

“That is good news and I heard previously that might be the case,” Schonauer said. “We could have lived with five (walleye) but this will help. They are the experts and hopefully we’ll have another good hatch this year.”

As for yellow perch, Schonauer noted that the past few years have provided exceptional angling.

“I’ve never had a bad year though last season the weather and wind conditions didn’t help but when we could get out the perch fishing was excellent,” he said.

Similarly, Lake Erie-based visitor and tourism bureaus are equally elated that the bag limits.

“That is very encouraging, great news. With the challenges that our charter captains are facing the retaining of current bag limits should help them retain their regular customers and even see more business,” said Bob Ulas, executive director of the Lake County Visitors Bureau. “It also will help the entire tourism industry. You just never know what the breaking point is on bag limits that will see a group decide either to fish on a charter or stay home."

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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