A scientific study is underway in an effort to help take some of the guesswork out of managing Lake Erie's yellow perch stocks.
Participating in the endeavor for now are Ohio and Ontario, Lake Erie's two largest fisheries stake-holders. Also cooperating is the U.S. Geological Survey's Lake Erie Biological station in Sandusky.
Ohio's cost for this three-year perch-tagging project is $86,000, almost all of which will come from the federal government's Dingell-Johnson Fund, paid for through excise taxes on fishing tackle.
The state's fisheries biologists say it will become money well spent if the effort results in providing answers to a number of current unknowns regarding Lake Erie and its yellow perch population.
Carey Knight, the Ohio Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist in charge of administering the project in the state, says his crew has outfitted 6,737 yellow perch with Passive Integrated Transponder tags, or “PITs” for short.
Each PIT tag is a tad larger than a grain of rice.
These highly evolved micro-sized scientific devices are read only via a special scanner and are implanted in the tagged fish in a place not utilized by either sport anglers or commercial fishermen, Knight says.
Such placement was an initial concern, especially expressed by the lake's commercial fishermen, said Knight, who works out of the Wildlife Division's Fairport Harbor Fisheries Research Station.
“The tags were inserted in the belly between the pelvic fin and the head, sort of in the fish's throat,” Knight said. “They're well out of fillet range and will be all but impossible for the angler to see.”
Knight says also the tags are similar to the ones used by the state to study the lake's walleye stocks.
Online material suggests as well that PIT tags are used worldwide in fisheries research with at least one product being made from FDA-approved surgical plastic.
A four-point interest led Ohio and Ontario to embark on the project. These points include:
* Tracking the movement of the lake's yellow perch.
* Whether the perch return to their nursery waters to spawn or simply move on elsewhere to breed.
* Help determine if the fishes move across the state's perch-management zones as well as whether they travel from Ohio's waters into those under Ontario's jurisdiction and vice-versa.
* Help establish the degree of mortality via sport-caught and commercial-caught activities.
To better understand the dynamics associated with achieving these goals the Wildlife Division went about capturing the fish and then inserting the tags.
Fishes caught, tagged, and released ranged in size from 7 inches to 14 inches. More than 95 percent of these fish likewise were males, the reason being the Wildlife Division visited perch-fishing grounds during the part of the year when males dominate the species' spawning grounds, Kight said.
And though 6,737 fish may appear to be a large number, Lake Erie is obviously so much bigger.
Which helps explain why the Wildlife Division anticipates its staff will “scan” more than one million perch.
Such an operation calls for trained creel survey clerks and others to sweep tag-sensitive wands across fish. Each wand will not just detect the tag but also will record the vital data the agency intends to assemble, Knight says as well.
“Obviously we're expecting to scan more commercially caught perch, but our creel clerks will have wands too and they'll be asking sport anglers for their cooperation with this important project,” Knight says.
Knight said also that because both Ohio and Ontario use “the same everything” in the way of equipment. Thus each stake-holder will have the ability to scan fish and collect the data.
Left out of the picture – at least for now – are Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan, each of which is also a Lake Erie fisheries stake-holder.
It wasn't a bias or a flip of the coin that determined which entity would perform the tagging duties, however.
The reason for Ohio and Ontario being selected first is because they manage the lion's share of Lake Erie. That, and also because of limited availability of the equipment, Knight said.
Knight says as well the agency will place posters at various locations frequented by Lake Erie yellow perch anglers as well as include project information on the Wildlife Division's web site at www.dnr.state.oh.us.
Follow the link to the Wildlife Division, then to fishing and then to fisheries management.
“We want everyone to know about this project and its implications for helping us to better manage Lake Erie's yellow perch,” Knight says.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn