This past Thursday, Dave Boyarski came in to talk with us about commercial fisheries and management on Lake Michigan. Dave works for the Sturgeon Bay DNR as a fisheries supervisor. He briefly went over some history of commercial fishing operations in Lake Michigan. Historically, lake trout and burbot were the dominant predators in Lake Michigan, along with many near shore fish communities, cisco and lake whitefish populations. Today, we have a huge alewife population that makes up a large part of the fishery, as well as sea lampreys and many other invasive species. In effect, tributaries and near shore wetlands have become polluted and degraded, with drastic effects on the fish communities.
Currently, the Lake Michigan commercial fishery for yellow perch is closed and the sports fishery is limited due to declining populations. Part of the reason for this is sharp decreases in smaller-sized zooplankton and increases in the larger zooplankton, of which larval yellow perch are unable to consume. Other species, like the bloater chub (deep water cisco species) and rainbow smelt and experiencing reduced rates due to population declines. One species that is keeping the Lake MI fishery rolling is the lake whitefish. Most of these fish are successfully caught by trap nets or gill nets. It is very easy to overharvest fish, and in the case of the lake whitefish, it seems they have a handle on sustainability. There are highly detailed fishing quotas and regulations put in place to monitor the fishery in order to maintain this sustainability and prevent overharvesting. To do so, public involvement is a key part of the process. There are fishery boards, fishing forums, rule making and hearing processes, and a few more informal processes. During the rule-development stage, the public has a chance to comment on the economic impacts of these proposed changes. The public holds a lot of weight in determining which direction the decision is made in. Please visit the following webpage for more information on these events: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/Fishing/lakemichigan/LakeMichiganFisheriesForum.html