Trout brouhaha brews in Michigan’s U.P.

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Experts argue that changing brook trout limits could threaten habitats.

Brook trout experts have asked the Department of Natural Resources to put on hold a proposal to double the brook trout creel limit in 10 streams in the Upper Peninsula.

They claim the proposal carries a political agenda and lacks scientific data, potentially threatening the overall brook trout habitat.

The agency’s proposal would allow anglers to take 10 fish per day per person. The current limit has existed for more than a decade.

The daily possession limit would be 10 fish and the minimum size would be 7 inches. All or portions of the rivers and tributary streams would be covered.

Brian Gunderman, a senior fisheries biologist at the DNR, said the proposal came forward as more anglers from the U.P. requested lifting the limit.

According to Gunderman, past DNR studies indicated that most people don’t catch more then five brook trout per day, so the risk of increased numbers would be slight.

“We did a biological review based on the available data and on a random survey in several streams in the U.P.,” he said.

Tom Nemachek, executive director of the U.P. Travel and Recreation Association in Marquette, said he relies on DNR studies and endorses the proposal as a good opportunity to boost the tourism industry in the area.

“We can be a better destination for fishing, and people can come and stay longer,” he said.

But many critics argue that the majority of U.P anglers oppose the change, plus they say the DNR studies are outdated.

“This is a terrible idea and it does nothing for the economy,” said Brad Petzke, a Marquette fishing guide and owner of Rivers North Guide Service.

“The people of Michigan voted and said they did not want it,” he said.

Last summer, a DNR survey of anglers in the U.P. showed that 55 percent supported the existing five-fish limit, compared to 17 percent who opposed it, according to the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group.

In addition, the Sierra Club reported the DNR proposal came despite its own Fisheries Division’s repeated opposition to the Natural Resources Commission to the change.

Petzke said such a sudden political change in the DNR decision is nothing but political pressure from the Natural Resource Commission that made the agency to fold for the worse.

“It’s corruption. It’s their friends that want to kill more brook trout, not the people of Michigan,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club, along with other experts said there is little biological evidence regarding how many brook trout can be kept without harming sustainable population levels.

“There is absolutely no scientific reason that these limits should be different in the U.P. from the Lower Peninsula,” said Marvin Roberson, a forest ecologist at the club’s Michigan chapter.

Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited in DeWitt, said the data the DNR relies on is 30 years old and the agency cannot apply the results of its random survey to all 10 streams included in the proposal.

They are Bryan Creek (Marquette and Dickinson counties); Dead River (Marquette County); Driggs River (Schoolcraft County); East Branch Ontonagon River (Houghton and Iron counties); East Branch Tahquamenon River (Chippewa County); Ford River (Dickinson and Iron counties); North Branch Otter River (Houghton County); Rock River (Alger County); Upper Tahquamenon River (Luce County) and West Branch Huron River (Baraga County).

Agencies need to understand the mortality rate of the brook trout population before adopting any regulations,

Scientists want a better understanding of brook trout before any changes are made. Photo: Anapko (flickr)

Burroughs added.

“We need to know how many fish are born, how fast they grow and how fast they die so it doesn’t affect the next generation of brook trout,” he said.

According to the DNR, it plans to conduct research on the effect of the limit increase after the regulations are changed.

Jill Leonard, a professor at Northern Michigan University specializing in fish biology, is wary that scientists will lose the power to understand whether any changes in future brook trout mortality will be related to regulations or environmental change.

“It is hard to understand how much pressure is put on the fish. It is very challenging to conduct such research and they take up to several years,” she said.

Leonard said the brook trout reproduce relatively fast, but at the same time they have a high mortality rate, especially in the winter.

The Natural Resources Commission decision on the proposal is scheduled for Thursday.

10 thoughts on “Trout brouhaha brews in Michigan’s U.P.

  1. The MDNR and “science based” doesn’t belong in the same sentence. They started this because some guy said it wasn’t worth going for 5 fish. Fine stay home.

  2. First of all, I run into these fishermen on the river sometimes and it saddens me. Most of them don’t adhere to any kind of size limit or bag limit at that. These are the same people that have no river etiquette. That being said, what kind of meal are you making with a 7″ brook trout….I’m sure that the people that respect the river and the life within them would be glad to buy you a couple of smelt, because they would have more meat on them anyways.

    That being said, I have no problem with a person that pays for their license going out and keeping a fish or two, but the keep small trout doesn’t make much sense, especially seeing that the trout you are catching aren’t normally going to provide you much of a meal.

    I find this article very concerning especially with the terrible year we had for rivers being down due to heat and declining populations due to this weather.

  3. The DNR is back at it again.IMHO there is no reason to up to put the limit of Brook Trout to a creel limit of 10 per day….

  4. While i agree that this process could be greatly improved, any comparison to the Passenger Pigeon seems more than a bit of a stretch! :-)

    The limit was 10 trout statewide for decades and there were always plenty of trout, in spite of the fact that there were more trout fishermen and those anglers were more likely to keep their catch. Implying that raising the limit on a handful of streams back to its historical level will cause some mass extinction of a fish that readily reproduces and reaches maturity at a size less than the 7 inch MSL is maybe a bit extreme.

    The reason the research that showed not many trout were kept above five fish is relevant here is that it is from the era when the bag limit was still 10 statewide. That’s exactly why the DNR used historical data, so they’d have a base line from back when anglers could keep 10, to see what they actually did. As was pointed out, it would make no sense to look at creel data from when the limit was 5 to see what anglers could/would keep above that.

    Please provide links to any research showing that the brook trout would be threatened by raising the limit to 10.

  5. If you’re looking to harvest fish, why are you looking for trout? Let’s go to a 3-fish creel limit for all trout species, increase the amount of catch-and-release water, and encourage anglers looking to keep fish to target walleye, bluegill, or other warm-water species.

    Increasing creel limits will HURT local economies, as the demographic of angler who seeks to keep 10 trout will not stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, or spend money on local goods/services. Reducing creel limits will increase fish population and average size, and will raise the quality of the overall experience, thus attracting greater numbers of anglers.

  6. In this age of excessive consumption, why does this trait have to be extended to trout creel limits? I’m not a fan of hook and release fishing either (the other extreme), so let’s leave it at five. Besides, no one said that you had to stop fishing after hooking five fish. Just enjoy the day on the river!

  7. Once again, the DNR seems hell-bent on living up to their old moniker of “Do Nothing Right”.

  8. Someone somewhere has an agenda that includes forcing the DNR to dance to their tune. While a DNR employee I worked on a 5 yr. study of brook trout in 5 U.P. streams, including population estimates, and a creel survey. At least for those 5 streams, the catch rate was low and few anglers would catch more than 5 fish, but, that is no reason to increase the creel limit. Most other game fish, bass, walleye, pike, salmon, steelhead, browns, lake trout, have a 5 fish or less limit, why increase brook trout? Our brook trout streams are severely compromised, particularly by sand and silt bedloads from stream road crossings and erosion. At one time both the DNR and U.S. Forest Service were heavily invested in in-stream sand traps to capture and remove some of the moving sand bedload. The results were startling comparing above and below the sand trap. The biological activity and stream bottom quality increased dramatically below the sand trap. Sadly, it was a program that died due to loss of funds.

  9. Whenever a creel limit is imposed, size limits changed, all we seem to catch are the fish just below the minimum size limit, because many local/worm dunkers are catching and keeping all the fish they net. The study says that not many people catch more than 5 brookies per day, thats because that was the limit, so Why would you fish more if you reached your creel limit. Other inconsistencies include creel surveys from local secretive fishermen/women who will never tell you ‘exactly’ how many they catch nor where for fear of giving up their treasured secret river or honey hole. Fish mortality should be number one concern, second size limit in coordination with age of maturity for each species. A 3 year old brook trout in a macro-invertebrate healthy river system is substantially larger and more fit to reproduce than the same fish in a drought stricken beaver dam riddled river where they cannot find much food nor shelter. The most disappointing aspect of the entire scenario is the fact that the DNR requested input from anglers all around the state and decidedly went in the opposite direction with the general consensus regarding size and creel limits. I hope we can find a common ground and that we don’t jeopardize the brook trout population before the species and goes the way of the Passenger Pigeon and the Grayling.
    Tight Lines,

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