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Sherman lake among finalists for state walleye experiment

 

Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

TYLER TUNNEY, with the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Limnology, talks in Mercer Monday about a planned experiment to reduce bass and panfish populations in a lake to hopefully reverse declining walleye populations. McDermott Lake in Sherman is one of the lakes being considered. Also attending the event were, from left, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Zach Lawson and Dan Dembkowski, a research fisheries scientist with the Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit at UW-Stevens Point.

By RICHARD JENKINS

rjenkins@yourdailyglobe.com

MERCER, Wis. - McDermott Lake, located in the town of Sherman, is one of the lakes being considered for a new experiment that hopes to be the key to bringing back declining walleye populations across Wisconsin.

Representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin's Center for Limnology and the Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit at UW-Stevens Point held a discussion at the Mercer Town Hall Monday to gauge public support for using the lake.

The decline in walleye populations across Wisconsin is happening at the same time bass and panfish numbers are increasing, according to Tyler Tunney with UW's Center for Limnology in Madison. Tunney and the other researchers at the meeting are proposing a five-year project to remove a significant quantity of bass and panfish from the lake to see if the walleye numbers rebound. They are theorizing the targeted species are either eating young walleye before they reach maturity and reproduce, or are simply outcompeting them for food.

While they acknowledged they aren't sure what is causing the population decline, the researchers said predation is a theory because they're observing walleye in the early stages of their life cycle that then disappear.

Those who attended the meeting - mostly McDermott Lake residents - generally expressed support for the proposal.

"I've been fishing that lake for many, many years. Forty years ago, (it) was a decent fishing lake - there were good numbers of walleyes, but only because people were putting them in there," said Dan Luke. "Lately, walleyes just seem to be non-existent. There could be a couple in there, here and there you might hook into one. But everything in that lake is stunted."

The researchers said stunted growth could be a sign of a food scarcity.

Later in the meeting, Luke said he wanted to see the lake thrive for his kids and grandchildren.

"I mean it used to be a great fishing lake and it's been going down hill really bad. I'd like to see it preserved, bring it back to what it was," he said.

While it remains to be seen whether the experiment will benefit the walleye populations, it is unlikely it would harm any of the already vulnerable populations.

"You're not going to make it any worse," resident Sean Burgess said in support of the plan.

Walleye stocking will continued as planned through the experiment, with McDermott Lake scheduled for stocking in 2017, according to DNR fisheries biologist Zach Lawson.

McDermott is the most viable lake in Iron County, according to the information presented at the meeting, although Echo Lake and Sandy Beach Lake are also on the list. Lakes in Barron, Bayfield, Oneida, Washburn, Langlade, Sawyer and Vilas counties are also being considered.

A second lake be monitored, but no fish will be removed to serve as a control in the experiment.

Tunney said there were variables needed for the ideal lake - including a history of walleye presence, being roughly 200 acres or less, scientific data to indicate what populations were over time to establish baselines, a consistent pattern of walleye followed by a decline and relative isolation to prevent fish from easily entering or exiting the body of water. Support from the public and local DNR officials was also key.

While they said it would be impossible to guarantee McDermott Lake will be picked, there were several factors that led to its high ranking.

"In terms of the science, it's ranked pretty high. So the major part we're missing is getting public support from the area," said Tunney.

He said he hopes the final rankings will be made in the next few weeks.

Once a lake is selected, Tunney said the first year of the project would simply consist of monitoring the fish populations to ensure the initial assumptions are correct. The next three years will consist of removing as many panfish and bass as possible, with a target of 80 percent of the lake's population.

Tunney said the removal will occur through a number of methods; including netting and electrofishing. While McDermott Lake has already had catch limits on bass removed, similar restrictions on panfish could also be eliminated to encourage sport fisherman to assist with the effort.

The fifth year of the study could either include additional removal efforts or simply assessing the results of the experiment. If additional funding is secured, Tunney said the project could either be extended or a new question studied - depending on results.

Other species, such as muskie and perch, won't be dealt with in the study. Tunney said they don't think it's part of the problem but could be looked at as a followup project if the initial plan doesn't work.

He did acknowledge muskie could increasingly target walleye as the other fish species are removed from the ecosystem.

The scientists also answered questions about whether overfishing could contribute to the decline; saying while it didn't help, the breadth of the decline made overfishing an unlikely cause. They also said there would likely be additional monitoring to ensure the newly placed walleye weren't targeted too hard.

Tunney also made clear the study was being done because people were concerned about the falling populations.

"I'm not advocating walleye over bass, or walleye over panfish. It's just we hear (from people), we know walleye has a special kind of place in people's hearts in Wisconsin," Tunney said, adding it is usually good to understand what is causing changes and then decide whether to address the changes.

For a complete list of lakes being considered, a fact sheet can be found at tinyurl.com/sunfish-removal. Comments can also be submitted to ttunney@wisc.edu or eric.pedersen@wisc.edu. They can also be mailed to Bass-Walleye Study, Center for Limnology, 680 N Park St. Madison, WI 53706.

 
 

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