Fishing license changes aim to boost tourism

By Laura Fosmire

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan is angling for more business in the fishing and tourism industries with two new laws that will increase the number of fish anglers can keep.

One establishes a 72-hour fishing license as an option between the 24-hour license and the annual one. The other allows anglers to keep an additional two-day’s possession of fish.

Greg Johnson, who has operated a fishing charter service out of Marquette for 20 years, said the changes will benefit tourism by encouraging people to take advantage of the state’s fishing.

“It keeps money in the state and brings money from outside the state,” he said. “I get customers from all across the nation. They want to come and spend the weekend and take more than just a single day’s catch of fish home with them.

“People are spending more time doing the things they have a passion and a lifestyle for,” he said. “Lake Superior is the world’s largest wilderness lake. It’s spectacular.”

Johnson said he’s upset that it was the Legislature, not the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, that changed the catch limits.

“It’s a crying shame we have to have legislation to get our DNRE to do anything,” he said. “This is very important for the people of Michigan.”

The extra two-day possession limit will benefit mostly weekend vacationers, said Todd Grischke of the state agency’s Fisheries Division.

“If they catch their limit in one day, they can freeze those fish, and then go out the next day and catch another day’s limit and not break the law,” he said.

The change addresses the catch limits of many species, including salmon and northern pike, both with a one-day limit of five; whitefish, with a maximum of 12; and rainbow trout, with a limit of 10.

But the fish that’s got anglers buzzing about the changes is the walleye, Grischke said.

“It’s one of the most popular food fish,” he said. “Bass, for example, are a species that are most often caught and released. When you look at those two species and compare them, people would have a much higher interest in harvesting and keeping walleye.”

Grischke said that possession limits are intended to keep species at a healthy number and to ensure all anglers get their fair share.

“Most of the possession limits are there to make sure that there’s an equitable distribution of natural resources,” he said. “Some of the limits are in place to protect the species from over-harvest. In some cases, where walleye are spawning, they get backed up against barriers and they kind of become a nuisance. We do have harvesting seasons to help with that.”

Geoff Steinhart, a fisheries professor at Lake Superior State University, said that catch limits are also enforced for biological reasons.

“Sometimes catch limits may be adjusted to encourage faster growth,” he said. “For example, increasing catch limits should remove more fish, which can decrease competition and increase growth rates of the remaining fish.”

Walleye seem to be thriving in the western basin of Lake Erie and in Lake Huron in Saginaw Bay, Steinhart said.

“In Lake Erie, there has been a decrease in nutrient inputs over the last several decades, so the walleye population may have declined since the heyday in the 1980s,” he said.

However, Richard Haslett of Madison Heights, president of the Michigan Charter Boat Association, said he’s concerned about the walleye population in those areas.

“My concern would be if they’re going to raise the limit in Lake Erie because we haven’t had good fish hatches there,” he said. “The last really good hatch was 2003. But areas like Saginaw Bay, I don’t think there would be any problem because we have good fishing going on right now.”

The bills were sponsored by Rep. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart and Rep. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

The new laws will take effect April 1, 2011.

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