Michigan chumming ban on trout streams upsets anglers

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Lake Erie Steelhead. Image: Wikipedia Commons.

Lake Erie Steelhead. Image: Wikipedia Commons.

By Marie Orttenburger

Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) recently banned scattering fish parts and eggs to lure fish on trout streams. Many anglers and guides are unhappy about it.

“It kind of drives me nuts,” said Chad Betts, owner of Betts Guide Service and Outfitters in Newaygo, Michigan

Known as chumming, the practice has long been controversial. Critics say it can cause disease and that it is an unfair way to catch more fish.

But some anglers don’t think those are reasons enough to categorically ban the practice on trout streams, as the NRC ruled to do in July.

They argue that the ban will deal a blow to Michigan’s fishing tourism economy.

Chum eggs. Image: Western Arctic National Parklands.

Chumming is helpful for fishing in the fall and winter months, when steelhead metabolism slows and the fish are less likely to bite. Guides like to use it to ensure visiting anglers have success.

“These people might have one day a year to fish,” said Eric Richards, owner and operator of Richards River Guide in Newaygo, Michigan, “[Chumming] is not a magic bullet by any means, but it is a nice tool to have in your arsenal.”

“We have customers who are saying they’re not going to come back,” after hearing about the ban, Betts said. He anticipates a 40-50 percent decline in fall and winter clientele.

Playing it on the safe side

The reason for the commission’s decision is chumming’s potential to harm the health of trout and salmon.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty around chumming,” said Nick Popoff, manager of the state Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Species and Regulatory Affairs Unit. “Generally, conservation decisions err on the side of safety.”

Popoff cited two studies as key contributors to the decision. One 2011 study investigated the potential negative impacts of using commercially cured eggs as bait. Curing eggs preserves them for longer use, but can involve chemicals that proved to increase mortality in juvenile salmon and trout. The other study, published in 1995, investigated the potential for disease transmission through eggs in Japan.

“There are other diseases that we currently don’t have in the Great Lakes that could be transmitted by eggs,” Popoff said.

The risks outlined in the studies combined with the state’s limited knowledge and regulation on chumming led the NRC to ban the practice on trout streams.

Supporters of chumming feel the studies don’t substantiate the ban. They prefer to see more region-specific scientific evidence that proves chumming is harmful.

“I don’t think those [studies] are representative of our ecosystem,” Richards said.

Chumming was banned in Michigan once before, from 2007-2012. There was concern then that fish eggs used for chumming in the Great Lakes could transmit Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS), a fast-spreading disease that could quickly obliterate an entire species of fish. In 2012, the Great Lakes strain of VHS was found not to be transmittable via fish eggs, and the ban was lifted.

The practice came back into question after a recent increase in chumming to catch steelhead, followed shortly by an influx of complaints about it. State officials began considering how to regulate the practice in 2014.

Fair game

For Michigan Trout Unlimited, it’s a matter of fairness.

“We want the largest percentage of anglers going out to get [steelhead] to have some degree of success,” said Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited. Unregulated chumming allowed some anglers to go home with 10-12 steelhead, he said, but others without a bite.

Chumming supporters compare it to using more effective tools in hunting. Those who choose more challenging methods will have more of a challenge.

“Just because [chumming] was more successful, is that really a reason to make it illegal?” Richards said. “You chose to fly fish. Fly fishing is a challenge.”

Richards and Betts both advocate for a restriction on how many eggs can be used to chum, which was one of the five options for chumming regulations discussed in the NRC’s meetings. The rest involved banning chumming on some or all trout streams. None of the options suggested specific regulations on egg origin or cure ingredients.

“It was an all-or-nothing approach basically,” said Amy Trotter, deputy director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“I don’t fault the commissioners, I think they had some valid concerns about disease and about the cures,” Trotter said. “What I would have liked was a little more creative thought as to how we can address those concerns rather than banning it.”

“But if we don’t have the information and data ready to go, then banning it was the only way to address those concerns at this point,” she added.

Trotter said she hopes that in the two years before the next Michigan DNR Fishing Guide is published, chumming supporters will help come up with solutions, and that the NRC will remain open to adjusting the regulation.

“We have to think through some mechanisms to actually enforce knowing where your eggs are coming from. Other states have done it. I don’t think that is insurmountable,” she said. “It certainly requires a little more work though.”

The practice is still allowed on other bodies of water.

Chumming throughout the region

For other Great Lakes states, chumming regulations center on the disposal of fish parts into bodies of water as litter. Wisconsin prohibits chumming unless an angler can retrieve the fish parts once he or she is done using them, by using a mesh bag, for example. Ohio has similar restrictions.

“It’s the unsanitary nature of disposing of those things,” said Jeff Collingwood, supervisor of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s Lake Erie Law Enforcement Unit. Disposed fish remains, he added, are unsightly, attract nuisance wildlife and eventually smell. But anglers can chum in any body of water so long as they clean up after themselves.

In Pennsylvania, “excessive” chumming is considered littering and therefore is illegal. The practice is completely banned in Minnesota and New York.

15 thoughts on “Michigan chumming ban on trout streams upsets anglers

  1. Two issues. Concerns of cure content, and concerns of sources of eggs. I get that. Address the concerns, not the technique.

    A) Documented egg sourcing.
    B) Test strips to detect the presence of sodium sulfite.

    OR if the fly fishing commissioners would have listened to the pro-ban side, explaining exactly where the eggs came from, and exactly how they are treated. OR realization that only a few cures even contain sodium sulfite, of which, no one whom is educated would even use on chum eggs, let alone spawn bags. ORRRRR realize that Oregon already went through this process, and the amount present in these cures we don’t even use have been deemed acceptable???

    This to me was the easy, coward’s way out for the NRC, because they knew TU, GravelQuest, and the others would all continue to whine if a ban wasn’t put in place.

    The golden question – Was it a conflict of interest for self proclaimed “avid fly anglers” of the commission to even vote on this topic? Should they have abstained their vote/comment/persuasion of the other commissioners?

  2. Chumming is not polluting the streams, millions of eggs flush thru the systems every season. True polution is beer cans and waste from irresponsible individuals. Ad a guide ofcourse I can catch fish without chumming, like many fellow fishermen, I believe time and lots of effort can be rewarded with a fish. Unfortunately, most my clients only have a few hours a year to spend after one of these chrome torpedoes. Educated chumming can help a person like this maximise their experience on the water. A joyful, memorable experience can benefit us all by converting more nonfishers into our beloved world. In the future added voices can help the entire sport.

  3. Skein is fine, the fly fisherman were tired of getting shown up by the spawn tossers that were chumming holes and runs with loose eggs. They have deeper wallets and a louder voice than the rest of the fisherman. Wait till they want more fly only water.

  4. So this might be a stupid question. I might have missed it in the article. This ruling has no affect on the centerpin, spin or bait caster people who cure skein from fish caught in Lake Michigan (or Lake Michigan tributaries) and float fish correct??? The concern about disease from fish eggs stems from eggs that are brought in from elsewhere (someplace other than the Great Lakes) ????

  5. Yes we all choose to fish the way we want whether it is with a fly or bait, pin rod or spinning. Nothing wrong with that, however it is when you choose a way to fish that changes the chances for others that it becomes a problem. Fishing with chum affects other fisherman from catching fish.

  6. Don’t get butthurt guy’s. Fishing is a sport and a few years ago I saw more than 50 king salmon along the banks ripped open just for the eggs, Ask me where is the sport in that? Don’t fish if your not eating it or letting it go. I would like chumming banned for ever if you can’t catch a fish with a fly then find your calling elsewhere. Good job NRC

  7. The steelhead fishery is largely a put and take one. The Muskegon river where this ban originates from has dang near zero natural reproduction, let them take fish, most die after the spawn anyway. The fly guys already have stretches of river that only they can fish, maybe make it illegal for them to be on that water. The NRC caved to a special interest group on this after it showed that it has no scientific impact…. Shame on them!

  8. Bait piles that are limited. It’s a lot easier to count carrots on the ground than eggs in the river, time to suck it up and realize if you can’t guide w/o chum, maybe you shouldn’t be guiding

  9. you chummers well know if we can’t chum we can’t catch fish, because you don’t know how to fish.Call me I will teach you how to catch fish for nothing. If you followed the rules and didn’t get arrested Every other month, you might learn that this is a recreational sport, something you can teach your kids and grandkids, and not how to rape the river so nobody else can catch fish.All the people have to do is look at the other states from the Salmon river in NY to the west coast, none allow chuming enough said. ( Learn how to fish it’s easy try it )

  10. Btw, I have never seen chum eggs like those in the picture. One chums with single eggs, not skeins…let me know, I can show you chum eggs. No one chums w fish parts. That isn’t an issue in this argument

  11. Every fish a client has hooked after chumming has been in the mouth. This is much more sporting than people “lining, flossing or snagging” fish off beds which is highly evidenced when I net a fish whose torso is full of flies.

  12. Chumming is unsportmanlike, pollutes the trout streams and I welcome the ban. I have been on many guided and unguided steelhead floats in Michigan when we didn’t catch any steelhead. It didn’t matter if we were fishing with an assortment of weighted wet flies, streamers, spoons, plugs, spinners, wobble glows, spawn bags or whatever. That’s steelhead fishing.

  13. If someone choses not to bait for deer, they dont have to. It should be a person’s choice to chum. Every fish I have ever hooked after chumming has been legal, in the mouth, the fish havin a sporting chance and a wonderous fight unlike “lined, flossed or snagged” fish of their beds by flies, where is the sport and dignity in that?

  14. “Chumming supporters compare it to using more effective tools in hunting.”

    Chumming seems more like using a bait pile to attract and shoot deer. Where’s the sport?

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