By Howard Meyerson
Lansing — State fisheries officials are recommending that Michigan’s Upper Peninsula brook trout limit remain five fish per day after hearing from anglers around the state about a proposal floated last spring to double the limit to 10 per day.
“There isn’t justification for doing it U.P.-wide on all streams,” said Brian Gunderman, senior fisheries biologist for the Michigan DNR. “Our recommendation is pick a handful of streams where we can set a 10-fish limit and do the research to see how they do and how many are fishing those streams and harvesting more than five fish.”
Gunderman spearheaded the agency’s effort to learn anglers’ preferences after Natural Resources Commission members from the Upper Peninsula prodded the agency into considering the question, citing frustration in the U.P. fishing community about the current brook trout limit of five and claiming that many streams no longer are fished because of it.
The recommendations follow 17 DNR-sponsored public meetings and online input from more than 1,400 anglers. The report submitted to the NRC earlier this month says: “There does not appear to be widespread support for raising the daily possession limit for brook trout. In general, catch rates and the opportunity to catch larger fish were more important to anglers than catching fish to eat.”
There are “no biological benefits and some slight risks with raising the daily possession limits,” the report goes on to say, along with that doing so would benefit “a relatively small percentage of the angling population.”
The survey found 55 percent of those surveyed support a five-fish limit. Only 28 percent supported a 10-fish limit. Lower Peninsula resident and nonresident anglers “clearly favored” the five-fish limit, while U.P. anglers were nearly split, with slightly more favoring five over 10.
“We like what fish division did,” said Bryan Burroughs, executive director for Michigan Trout Unlimited. “We didn’t oppose the 10-fish limit to keep people from having more fish to cook; we are just in favor of finding high-density trout streams where that regulation fits.
“We think their assessment that there would be minimal biological risk is garbage,” Burroughs said. “They based that on a 30-year-old study. We think what they did was reasonable because there are too many biological uncertainties.”
Criticism leveled at the proposal during the past several months focused on it being a one-size-fits-all-streams regulation. Critics said it didn’t account for variations in trout density from steam to stream or even streams where coaster brook trout restoration is a state priority.
Burroughs and others have said more research is needed to determine where a 10-fish limit might be appropriate.
“I am extremely pleased with the decision,” said Brad Petzke, owner of Rivers North Guide Service in Marquette. “They looked at the big picture and determined that they have a lot more research to do before they can go with a 10-fish limit.”
U.P. commissioners on the NRC were not so sublime. Commissioner John Madigan, from Munising, asked Gunderman if the DNR has data about the number of brook trout that are taken in the U.P. and the size of those that are taken.
Gunderman answered “no” to both questions. He said the agency has some information on the time of year they are caught.
Madigan also asked just what data are being collected.
Fisheries Division chief Jim Dexter responded by saying the agency collects a limited amount of information and no longer maintains its once large and active inland creel program due to financial cuts.
“We put our effort on the Great Lakes,” Dexter said. “We now don’t have the ability to do it,” he said, adding that the agency needed to figure out how to make it happen.
Gunderman, after the meeting, said the new recommendations would “provide an opportunity to go and do the research, not to convince ourselves, but to convince the public. And it would be nice to have more current data.”
But how soon that will happen is a different question.
“It will have to be a collaborative effort,” Gunderman said. “We don’t have the money or manpower to do all that work ourselves.”
Ontonagon commissioner J.R. Richardson called the DNR survey “a little skewed.” Richardson and Madigan had initiated the idea of raising the limit.
Madigan, however, reiterated to the commission that they were charged with using scientific data to make such decisions.
“I don’t think we have the resources one way or another right now to make that decision, Madigan said.
© 2012 Howard Meyerson