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But many critics argue that the majority of U.P anglers oppose the change, plus they say the DNR studies are outdated.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