By Howard Meyerson
Lake Erie’s walleye and perch populations are 20 percent smaller than in 2012, but anglers fishing Michigan waters will again be able to keep six walleye and/or 50 perch per day, according to Michigan officials.
“The news isn’t good,” said Mike Thomas, a fisheries research biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake St. Clair Fisheries Research Station. “We’re seen a 20 percent decline lakewide in age 2 and older perch. And, when we look at the abundance estimates over time for walleye, this is the very low-end.
“But a 20 percent change on its own for perch is not cause for big concern and fishermen are not likely to notice a difference in 2013. If there is any reason to be optimistic about walleye, it’s that this has been a pretty good, cold winter and a later spring, so we may see better year classes produced this year.”
Walleye and perch data presented
Perch and walleye data from 2012 trawl surveys and computer modeling was recently presented to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Lake Erie Committee. The multi-state group determines the allowable take for those species.
Lake Erie’s fishery is divided into management units with Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario all getting a share, some of which is commercial.
Michigan’s “allowable catch” is 154,000 pounds of perch in 2013. Michigan anglers typically catch 80,000 to 90,000 pounds, according to Thomas, who does not expect the 2013 harvest to approach the season limit.
“Last year they (Michigan anglers) caught 93,291 pounds of perch,” Thomas said. “Catch rates have been good the last couple of years, but even when they are high, we don’t come close to the allowable catch.”
The Lake Erie Committee set the total allowable catch for walleye at 3.356 million fish. Michigan’s portion is 5.83 percent, or 196,000 walleye. That’s well above the 90, 0000 walleye trigger/threshold Michigan fisheries managers use to lower the daily creel limit. When Michigan’s allowable catch is that low, the daily limit is also reduced. But with room to spare, it will stay six fish in 2013, Thomas said.
Michigan anglers don’t get close to allowable catch
Michigan anglers caught 86,000 walleye on Lake Erie in 2012, according to a report by the Lake Erie Walleye Task Group. The allowable catch was 203,292 walleye.
Various changes in Lake Erie are thought to have contributed to the decline seen in both walleye and perch since 2012. Recruitment has suffered, Thomas said, due to improved water clarity.
A presentation to the Lake Erie Committee by Stuart Ludsin, an Ohio State University assistant professor in aquatic ecology suggested that perch or walleye fry survival is lower in areas with less turbidity, whether due to pollution control or the filtering of algae and zooplankton by mussel colonies.
The findings fit, according to Thomas. Clearer water means less food is available for young fry to eat. Added clarity also means young fish are more readily found by non-native predators like white perch, which feed on both larval fish and eggs.
The perch decline appears mostly with age 2 fish. Age 3 and older make up the bulk of the sport harvest, Thomas said.
Michigan anglers, he added, are likely to catch more perch in 2013. The reconstruction of Bolles Harbor in Monroe is complete. It was closed for two seasons.
Lake Erie walleye hail largely from large 2003 year class and “decent” year classes produced in 2007 and again in 2010. The bulk is either age 3 or age 6, Thomas said, meaning anglers will find mostly legal size (15-inch) fish this season.
Anglers can get a $100 reward if they return any tagged walleye they catch to the DNR, according to Thomas. Tagged walleyes are part of a migration study and have a tiny device embedded in their abdomen that lets researchers know where they travel.
Copyright © 2013 Howard Meyerson