Official feels walleye plan working
Written by The Plain Dealer   
Friday, 14 April 2006 15:40

Roger Knight is confident Lake Erie's walleye management programs are on the right path, and he predicts Ohio anglers will have a banner year.  Knight is the head of the ODNR Ohio Division of Wildlife's fisheries management at the Sandusky Research Unit

He said criticism of liberal catch rates set for 2006 is unfounded. The walleye management plan put in place in 2005 by the Lake Erie partners - Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan - will react quickly to fluctuations in the walleye population, preventing stocks from dwindling.

For 2006, the Lake Erie Committee (LEC) of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission handed down a total allowable catch (TAC) of 9.9 million walleye, up from 5.8 million fish in 2005. That increase will allow anglers to take advantage of the superb 2003 class of walleye making up an estimated 70 percent of the Lake Erie walleye population of 46 million fish.

"We have a good handle on how many walleye can be safely removed [by sport and commercial fishermen]," said Knight. "The new plan is designed to react more quickly if the walleye population is declining."

The LEC strategy will assure a lakewide walleye population of 20 million to 40 million walleye. The liberal 2006 harvest will most likely result in a lower TAC for 2007, said Knight.

"The LEC estimates of the walleye population were higher than we expected, pushing the TAC up into the highest fishing rate of the new policy," said Knight. "Next year, the population won't be in that high and the TAC will come down."

Knight is sure the total Lake Erie harvest will not reach 9.9 million fish in 2006.

"I expect a lakewide catch in the 5 [million] to 6 million range," he said. "Ontario has not fully allocated its 4.2 million walleye to commercial fishermen, holding some back to make sure it stays within its quota. Ohio sports anglers are not likely to catch their allocation of 5.1 million walleye."

Ohio sport fishermen kept an estimated 600,000 walleye in 2005, a season plagued by hot weather, and tossed back just as many walleye failing to meet the state's new 15-inch size limit.

"The big swing in the TAC won't affect our fishery one bit," said Knight. "It will affect Ontario. They may have a real gain this year, but there will be real pain as the TAC falls in the coming years."

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