Michigan DNR plans steps to protect walleye
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources held a public meeting Thursday to receive opinions of the men and women who fish the Ontonagon River.
The impetus for the meeting came from letters sent to the DNR from the Ontonagon County Valley Sportsmen's Club and the Upper Peninsula SportsfishermEn's Club, both located in the county.
J.R. Richardson, Ontonagon, of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, explained the proposal made by the sports groups to limit the taking of fish over 25 or 27 inches to one per boat for a trial period of five years. He said many fishermen voluntarily release the big fish back into the river, since they are the "breeders."
Richardson said recent publicity has drawn people from Wisconsin and Minnesota to the Ontonagon River to catch the big walleyes. "They want their pictures taken with the big fish... and this is killing our future," one letter said. Most in attendance agreed that the 27-inch and over walleyes are not good to eat.
George Madison, FNR fish management, Baraga; Steve Scott, Fisheries Division, Newberry; Phil Schneeburger, Marquette, and John Matonich, chairm of the NRC, answered the many questions of about 25 people.
Matonich said the decision on the request will be based first on biology.
Schneeburger said the traditional methods of determining how many large fish are in the Ontonagon River are difficult because of the current. The only mechanism available is the creel count, Madison said.
The DNR has a creel monitor at the river every other year, with 2016 the next one. Madison said the fisheries division will have methods to determine if the walleyes are caught in the river or lake.
Jim Rein discussed the movement of walleyes, noting they move back and forth from the lake and river.
Scott explained the best breeders are those fish from 18 to 23 inches.
For the past 10 years, the DNR has been planting 1 million walleyes in the river each year and may go to planting every other year so it can determine if the river naturally replenishes itself, or needs the influx of plants.
"We would be able to see the ups and downs and strengths of the river fishery," Madison said. The suggestion by Scott that the only real way to evaluate the river would be to cease stocking for several years drew a resounding "no" from the crowd.
Richardson, president of the U.P. Sportsfishermen's group in Ontonagon, said "if this was in mind, you will meet a lot of opposition, including mine."
Madison said he wished there was some business representation in attendance as the DNR wants to determine if the regulation to take just one over 27-inch walleye per boat for five years would hurt business.
Village manager Joe Erickson said the regulation could possibly enhance the fishing, since it would demonstrate to fishermen that the river has some very large fish and others might come to Ontonagon just to catch one.
Madison said the proposal to limit the take of 27-inch plus fish to one per boat will be brought before the NRC in October and voted on in December. He said the fisheries division wants public input and are welcome to write or call for information.
If the proposal passes, violators will be fined.