Feuding over fishing
Written by Manitowoc Herald Times   
Sunday, 10 July 2005 15:17
Likened by some to the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, the origin of the struggles between local sport and commercial fishermen seems to be lost in myth.

Generations of commercial fishermen once called Manitowoc and Two Rivers home, but as the fishery changed to salmon and trout and the sportfishing industry grew, commercial fishing in the area all but disappeared. Now, the LeClair and Kulpa families, based in Two Rivers, are the only two local, active commercial fishing operations to survive.

They bring in thousands of pounds of chubs, smelt and whitefish, but their summer whitefish trap netting has some sport fishermen up in arms. Mike LeClair and Julie and Steve Kulpa hold whitefish quotas allowing harvest of more than 100,000 pounds.

According to a report by Michael Staggs, director of the Department of Natural Resources? Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection, sport and charter anglers believe the trap nets obstruct fishing during their busiest time of the year, while commercial fishers say they should be allowed to trap whitefish in the same zone, at the same time.

"We?ve done the best we can to try and find common ground," said Bill Horns, Great Lakes fishing coordinator for the DNR. "We haven?t found it."

In the contested zone, east of Manitowoc and Two Rivers in 75 to 150 feet of water, trap netters are allowed three nets apiece, compared to 12 allowed for whitefish trap netting in others parts of Lake Michigan.

Manitowoc Harbormaster Bill Handlos said he is concerned the whitefish nets between Manitowoc and Two Rivers could cause problems for sport fishermen and the S.S. Badger car ferry. The Badger makes 492 trips a year, some of them directly over the netted area.

Don Clingan, vice president of marketing for Lake Michigan Carferry, which owns the Badger, said the ship will at times pass over the nets.

Clingan said the situation poses far more danger to commercial fishermen tending the nets than to the Badger.

"The Badger cannot alter her course quickly to avoid smaller boats," he said.

Why here?

Commercial fishermen received an extension of their whitefish trap-netting season in this zone last season, allowing them to fish in the area between Manitowoc and Two Rivers during the summer. After heavy lobbying by the sport fishing industry, an emergency rule was brokered with the help of State Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, to allow the summer fishery, but pushed it north of Two Rivers.

That emergency rule has expired, and between June 28 and Labor Day, fishing is permitted in the more southerly zone.

Commercial fishermen Pete LeClair, Two Rivers, said mats of moss have begun entangling his nets, but spring was very productive for whitefish.

LeClair said there hasn?t been any recent dialogue between sport fishermen and himself.

"No, it?s a waste of time," he said. "They just want us gone. Then they?d be happy."

Handlos said he?s received complaints from some sport fishermen who lost equipment while fishing too close to the nets in the six-square-mile area.

In a recent incident near Ludington, Mich., a sport fisherman?s equipment became entangled in a gill net. The boat was swamped, and the crew rescued. Manitowoc sport angler Mike Rusch is convinced the same thing could happen with a whitefish trap net.

"As long as it?s nice and clear, (the nets) aren?t as much as a problem," Rusch said. "It?s when the weather gets bad that they get dangerous."

Even the 410-foot Badger could be hindered.

Clingan called it "unlikely," but said if the Badger?s propeller became entangled in the nets, "we would either have the nets removed by divers, or we might have to take the ship to the shipyard to have the work done. In either case, the removal process would interrupt the Badger?s sailing schedule."

Commercial fisherman John Kulpa, Two Rivers, isn?t convinced.

He believes the Badger?s 14-foot prop would spit out one of the buoys "like cord wood."

Uninterrupted service

Handlos said his concern is more for out-of-town anglers than local sport fishermen, because someone from the area likely would have a better chance to learn where the nets are and to avoid them. He?s also concerned that fishermen who hear about a potential net issue may choose to fish in Sheboygan or Algoma instead of Manitowoc and Two Rivers .

Kevin and Sandy Smith, Lake City, Minn., have driven 5 ? hours each way to come to Manitowoc and fish at least once a year for the past 30 years.

Kevin Smith said he knows "about" where the nets are located, and he isn?t concerned because he doesn?t fish in that area. He said that even if he had never fished here before, the issue of the nets wouldn?t stop him from coming.

Smith said the nets are something fishermen have to tolerate. As a youth, Smith said he grew accustomed to fishing around gill nets in the Mississippi River.

"Sometimes you get a little upset with them, but you live with it," he said.

Skirting the issue

Some sport fishermen along the Door County peninsula have learned that baitfish tend to congregate along the trap nets. Baitfish means big fish, and a standard marking system allows these fishermen to skirt along the sides of the nets, according to Tom Hansen, warden supervisor for the DNR Northeast Region headquarters.

For the past five or six years, trap net fishermen have been required to mark their nets with flags. The lead line, the pot of the trap net, and the king line are marked with flags (three in a line). The nets also have wings (also marked), which go out to the sides of the main trap line, he said.

"It?s pretty simple once you figure it out," Hansen said.

Rusch said he is hoping people don?t try to figure it out, but just leave them alone. Many anglers know the vicinity where the nets are, but the exact location sometimes catches people by surprise in dark or foggy conditions.

John Kulpa said he warned a sport fisherman away from one of the whitefish trap nets after the boat was about to go right over the top of it.

Trap nets, aside from the line attached to the buoys (which go straight up from the depths) rise 30 feet off the bottom of the lake, he said.

At least 16 commercial fishermen net for whitefish in Door County, from Whitefish Bay to the islands at the tip of the peninsula.

"We?ve had very few complaints in Door County (since they instituted the flags)," Hansen said.

Rusch and others are still exploring ways to get the nets pushed to the north.

"Sport fishermen are still hopeful, but I haven?t heard there are going to be any changes," Horns said.

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