A nice catch: Yellow perch, walleye abundant this year
Written by The Morning Journal   
Wednesday, 05 April 2006 12:11

Yellow perch are thick and the walleye are wall-to-wall, say those in the know. The year 2003 was a banner year for Lake Erie, when the pollution was down and its fish population began to take off.

But this year, the fruits of 2003 are paying off in terms of a harvest of Lake Erie's two most popular fish -- yellow perch and walleye, said Dave Kelch of the Ohio Sea Grant Cooperative at Oberlin's Ohio State Extension Service.

From temperature changes to the directions and strengths of wind and waves, it all came together in 2003, Kelch said.

''The year 2003 happened to be the year when environmental factors came together in Lake Erie that affected the spawning of fish,'' he said. ''In 2002, the walleyes' spawn was not nearly as good. In 2006, anglers can expect to have an absolute heyday with the 2003 walleye.''

He said 15-, 16- and 17-inch walleye from ''the class of 2003'' will be in abundance this year, which should please fresh-water fish lovers.

''Are they safe to eat? Yes, they're way under the 21-inch limit,'' said Kelch.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, has even upped the catch for yellow perch on Lake Erie, said Kelch, from 30 to 40 per day. The walleye limit is three to four a day in the spring and six per day the rest of the season. In addition, ODNR has stocked Lake Erie with 400,000 steelhead trout.

''The steelhead trout are spawning and biting right now,'' he said. ''When stocked, they are about six inches long. They are now about 16 to 18 inches long.''

Russ Ardick, owner of Ardick Seafood Inc. in Lorain, said there's a lot of optimism this year after a down year in 2005.

''I hope this year will be a good one. Last year was such a bad one,'' he said. ''The size of the walleyes was just under keeping size last year. This year, it's going to be a good walleye and perch season. There's a lot of perch out there now, too, but it pretty much all pertains to the weather.''

Peter Meisenheimer, executive director, Ontario Commercial Fishermen's Association, said the perch and walleye fishing in the central basin of the lake, which encompasses Lorain, should be quite abundant this year.

''There are huge amounts of yellow perch in there,'' said Meisenheimer, adding that 173 samples are taken around the lake by his organization to more accurately identify the number and of type of fish.

''The older fish in particular are much more mobile and what you see is a pattern for perch distribution. By late summer and early autumn, there was a heavy contingent of yellow perch in the lake,'' he said.

And that's a good thing.

''Yellow perch is the money fish for us,'' said Meisenheimer.

As for pickerel or walleye, Meisenheimer said, ''There's going to be a big mass of them out there.''

But Kelch said the abundant harvest of fish comes with a downside -- mercury. There is currently a nationwide fish consumption advisory because of mercury pollution. The advisory suggests that fish measuring more than 16 inches not be eaten.

''For Lake Erie, some of the fish we hold in high reverence, like channel catfish, measuring 16 inches and longer, the advisory says do not eat them,'' said Kelch. ''If they're under 16 inches, you can eat one as a meal every two months.''

When it comes to other Lake Erie fish, such as small mouth bass, white bass, white perch, steelhead trout and fresh water drum (sheepshead), the advisory recommends one meal a month, said Kelch.

''Keep in mind there is a 10 percent margin of error in the advisory,'' he said. ''But the health advisory is aimed at women who are pregnant or expect to become pregnant and also for young children.''

One way to safely prepare a fish that's on the advisory list, said Kelch, is to cut away the fatty tissue where contaminants reside.

''You remove the belly and the dorsal and have yourself a skinny filet,'' he said

 
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