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Great Lakes Fishery Commission announces total allowable catch numbers for commercial fishing
Sunday, April 07, 2002

Great Lakes Fishery Commission announces total allowable catch numbers for commercial fishing

Published on April 7, 2002

Author: WILL ELLIOTT

The Buffalo News Inc.

Lake Erie remains a Great Lake, but scientist and fisheries professionals have some weighty management tasks to keep that lake great.

Fisheries experts from agencies around Lake Ontario and Lake Erie gathered at Adams Mark Hotel recently to discuss conditions and concerns for these two, lower Great Lakes water bodies. Sessions for both lakes included major topics of concern, but the Lake Erie sessions kept commercial and recreational anglers in place for the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's announcement of its TAC (total allowable catch) numbers for commercial fishing in 2002.

Walleye TAC numbers, a heated concern in recent years, had been abolished last year. Bill Culligan, Lake Erie Unit leader and outgoing chairman of the Lake Erie Committee, negotiated an agreement among all agencies (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario) to hold the walleye TAC at 3.4 million fish for at least three years.

Yellow perch became a key focus. Because of strong classes of perch in 1996, 1998 and 1999, committee decision makers went to a 9,333,000-pound TAC lakewide for yellow perch in 2002. That's up about 32 percent from last year's 7.1 million pounds, but still way below the levels of 20 to 30 years ago.

Rob Graham, executive director of Ontario Commercial fisheries, called for a major increase in the perch TAC, citing a 20-25 percent rate of closings for commercial processors in 2001. Graham noted 1996 as the best year for perch spawning in 30 years.

Ohioan Gene Mazni , with the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, told commissioners "(this) increase seems excessive, but we ask that you stay the course." Perch catches for recreational as well as charter boat anglers have improved steadily in Ohio waters in recent warm-weather seasons.

Kevin Ramsey, Ohio's chief Lake Erie Enforcement Officer, spoke with pride of Ohio's efforts to hold daily creel limits to 30 fish each year since 1996. "With all the recreational anglers and charter boat pressure in central and western basin areas of this lake, we still keep seeing increased perch numbers after each good year class," he noted.

Mike Thomas, with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, spoke as head of the Yellow Perch Task Group, showing trends for RAH (recommended allowable harvests).

"In 2001, perch fishing was heaviest in the western basin. Actual perch catches came in at 6,956,000 pounds, just under the 7.1 million TAC," Thomas said. He pointed to 1996 as the best harvest year lakewide and 2000 as the lowest. Perch harvests in and near New York State waters of the eastern basin, despite some good summer catches out of Dunkirk Harbor and Cattaraugus Creek, came in at just 60,000 pounds of perch.

Anglers from the Western New York end of the lake accepted this relatively modest increase from the 7.1 million TAC set in 2001 without comment, said Don Einhouse, senior aquatic biologist at the Lake Erie Unit.

Walleye reports keyed more on estimating production sources and stock discrimination than on catch rates. Both Bob Haas with the Michigan DNR and Dr. Stuart Ludsin from the University of Windsor, discussed ways in which biologists now seek more sophisticated ways to identify strains of percids , perch and walleye.

Haas noted a general trend seen in tagging studies. Western basin walleye, mainly larger females, migrate; eastern basin fish remain in the eastern basin.

Tom Marks, president of Southtowns Walleye Association, attended all sessions and came away saying, "All that they've presented here points to the possibility that a distinct strain of walleye spawns and thrives in eastern basin waters." Marks, concerned about management of creel numbers, asked to see more specific data on how biologists determine the take in New York State waters.

Sea Lamprey control holds as a modest concern, according to Larry Schleen with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Schleen said, "We try to keep lamprey wounding of Great Lakes lake trout below 5 percent." Their overall population has been low and slightly increasing since 1995, but no control program is set for Cattaraugus Creek, the largest feeder stream in New York State in 2002. A 2001 survey gathered only modest figures for that river-sized water body

Scientists presented detailed reports on genetic markers, year class dominance, cormorant updates, spatial data, otolith (microscopic organ in the inner ear of fish), microchemistry, cohort studies of species in separated lake bodies, but the most visual and dynamic presentation had to be that given by Pam Thiel , US Fish and Wildlife Service field biologist on the Asian carp invasion.

While other scientists highlighted significant numbers, trends and prospects for fisheries in the future, Thiel started with a set of slides showing where the next major exotic invader might come from -- mid air.

Asian (often called "big-headed") carp were brought into Arkansas in 1972, sliver and black carp arrived in 1973. Both reach immense sizes, but the sliver carp, which can reach 40-inch lengths and 110 pounds, behaves like no bottom-feeder carp. Thiel noted that several USF&WS personnel have been injured when these fish go airborne in Mississippi River waters close to Lake Michigan around Chicago.

One slide showed a carp 10 feet above the water surface. These fish have been seen in Great Lakes waters. Einhouse got a report of one found on Lake Erie's north shore in Ontario waters.

For those not depressed with reports of botulism, mollusks, low water levels, cormorants and other aquatic woes, flying carp might add agonies during a dull day of fishing this summer.

For complete texts of all GLFC presentations, go to: www.glfc.org.

 

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