Rules proposals target boundary-water fisheries
Written by Green Bay Press-Gazette   
Thursday, 16 February 2006 12:46

No changes are planned for the popular trophy walleye fishery on the Fox River, but anglers who fish walleyes on Green Bay, the Menominee River and other bay tributaries might see new regulations a year from now.

In addition, Wisconsin and Michigan fisheries personnel look to protect what they feel is a vulnerable population of lake sturgeon in the Menominee below the Hattie Street Dam.

DNR warden supervisor Tom Hansen of Green Bay said while a proposal to move toward uniform Wisconsin and Michigan walleye regulations is a social issue, the recommendation for closing the sturgeon fishery in the river below the Hattie dam to the mouth is based on biology.

The Fox River is considered outlying waters and is not included in a proposal to increase uniformity for walleye regulations in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, especially in the Marinette-Menominee area.

While the Fox fishery at De Pere mainly is a catch-and-release event each spring, fishermen flock to the Menominee for walleyes as soon as the ice is out. Many fish are kept and eaten.

Anglers at the spring fish and game hearings on April 10 will learn more about the proposals.

The new rules would leave the river boundary-water regulations unchanged, but reduce the three-fish bag with no size limit on Green Bay and tributaries to one walleye with a 15-inch minimum size limit from March 2 to the first Saturday in May.

From the first Saturday in May to March 1, the proposal would increase the bag limit from three walleyes with no size limit to five walleyes with a 15-inch minimum in the bay.

Michigan, meanwhile, has agreed to allow a one-fish, 15-inch minimum in its part of the bay waters in spring before its general opener on May 15.

"There's a high concentration of fishers at the mouth of the river," Hansen said. "We've written citations up there, and the judge does not like it. He wants uniformity (between Michigan and Wisconsin's regulations)."

Anglers still would be allowed to keep three walleyes a day in spring if they have both states' licenses, caught one fish in each of the three areas and brought each fish to the vehicle before going back out, Hansen said.

Keith Waloway of the Marinette-Menominee Great Lakes Sport Fishermen is concerned that Michigan-stocked walleyes may be impacting yellow perch and trout and salmon fingerlings in the area. He believes Wisconsin is giving up a lot going from no length limit to 15 inches, and from three fish to one fish.

"If this is a put-and-take fishery, why restrict it when the walleye population is growing in numbers and size?" Waloway said.

With smelt and perch numbers down in the past decade, Waloway thinks walleyes are taking advantage of planted salmon and trout in spring. The DNR has begun planting trout under the ice before the walleyes make their spawning run, Waloway said, but he isn't sure if the fingerlings stay in the river and are eaten anyway or stage off the river mouth, where hungry walleyes wait.

"The brown trout fishery crashed," Waloway said.

Hansen said allowing five walleyes the rest of the season might counteract any spring harvest reduction. Waloway disagrees.

"Try to catch a walleye through the ice here, or even in the dead of summer," Waloway said. "There's only a handful of serious bay fishermen for walleyes year-round here. The trout and salmon fishery brings in a lot more anglers for a longer period of time."

Meanwhile, anglers will be asked if they favor a sturgeon fishing closure in the area below the Hattie Street Dam, a change to a 60-inch minimum length above the dam and a season above Hattie Street that runs from the first Saturday in September through Sept. 30. The current season ends Nov. 1.

Michigan already has approved a 60-inch minimum.

The minimum in Wisconsin is a 50-inch limit in odd years and a 70-inch limit in even years. Hansen said the harvest rate has increased since 1999.

Warden Mike Kitt said one of his concerns is younger fish are harvested during years with the 50-inch limit.

Last fall, 136 of the 172 sturgeon tagged were reported to be caught below the Hattie Street Dam. Very low water may have kept anglers from catching more fish. In 2003, a record 210 sturgeon were registered. A year later, with the 70-inch minimum, no sturgeon were kept.

Out-of-state anglers of European descent are thought to comprise more than 50 percent of those hoping to hook a sturgeon. Hansen said they are shore anglers who fish almost exclusively just below the dam.

The Menominee River is the only Lake Michigan tributary open to sturgeon harvest, and Kitt said the slow-growing fish must be protected.

In addition, wardens have issued citations to some of the out-of-state anglers for keeping small sturgeon, which they claim are "sand sturgeon."

"They thought they were shovelnose, which rarely get over 18 to 20 inches," Kitt said. "We have no shovelnose here. They're common to the Mississippi, and there's a few in the Wisconsin River. The (lake sturgeon) they kept were about 18 to 30 inches."

Last fall, Kitt participated in Great Lakes enforcement training with the 2005 warden recruit class in Sturgeon Bay. Kitt took three recruits — now stationed in Marinette and Oconto counties — in his patrol boat across Green Bay to familiarize them with the west shore.

While patrolling the Menominee River, Kitt received a call that several anglers witnessed two fishermen with what appeared to be one legal and four sub-legal size sturgeon. Although the wardens were only a half-mile away, they couldn't get to the dam by boat, and Kitt's truck and trailer were in Sturgeon Bay.

With some quick thinking, wardens borrowed a vehicle and arrived in time to greeted some very happy anglers who pointed out the violators. The fish were seized and the poachers cited.

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