By Howard Meyerson
Lake Michigan anglers can expect rule changes ahead for lake trout all along the Lower Peninsula shoreline. State fisheries managers want to liberalize fishing in the southern basin and reduce fishing pressure in northern waters.
“We’re interested in lowering the minimum size for lake trout from 20 inches to 15 inches,” said Jay Wesley, the southern Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor for Michigan DNR. “Lake Huron and other Lake Michigan states already have lower size limits. This will bring our regulations closer to theirs.”
The proposed change would affect Lake Trout Management Units MM 6, 7 and 8, meaning all Michigan waters south of a line between Arcadia and Frankfort. Lakes Huron and Superior already have 15 inch size minimums. Indiana has a 14 inch minimum and Illinois and Wisconsin have 10 inch minimums.
Lake trout have become increasingly abundant in southern Lake Michigan, due, in part, to near-shore stocking by the Michigan DNR, which stocks 80,000 lake trout annually. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also stocks them each year. The federal agency stocks approximately 2.7 million yearlings each season, lake-wide, along with 252,289 fall fingerlings.
Lowering the size limit would make them more available to southern lake anglers from Muskegon to New Buffalo, Wesley said. A final decision on the rule would come from the Natural Resources Commission this fall and take effect in 2015.
Lake trout regulations are expected also to change in northern waters of the Lower Peninsula, in management units MM 3, 4 and 5.
Heather Hettinger, the DNR’s Central Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist, said the goal will be to reduce fishing pressure on those populations. Anglers are catching more lake trout these days due to finding fewer chinook salmon in the lake.
Hettinger has been organizing public meetings to discuss ideas with the fishing public, reviewing potential changes for each unit that could involve size limits or daily bag limits. The remaining two-hour meetings are scheduled for MM4 on April 16 at 5 p.m. at East Bay Township Hall in Traverse City and MM5 on April 23 at 5 p.m. at Frankfort City Hall.
“We’ve promised that we would revise the regulations within five years, but we are coming in a little early with this,” Hettinger said. “With last year’s low chinook salmon harvest numbers early in the season, we knew more anglers were harvesting lake trout, but with the salmon not really showing up until fall, lake trout became the predominate catch in May, June and July.
“The result was we are either very close or over our total allowable catch (TAC) (established) in the consent decree (with tribes) in MM4 and MM5.
Michigan is accountable for its lake trout catch under the consent decree. If the lake trout harvest exceeds the TAC for three consecutive years, the state can be penalized. It would lose some of its lake trout allocation which would be given to various tribes.
Rather than risk a second year of exceeding TAC, the state is moving to change regulations, anticipating that lake trout harvests will again be high in 2014.
Michigan’s lake trout TAC for MM4, the waters of Grand Traverse Bay, is 77,200 pounds. Anglers fishing last year caught approximately 1,500 pounds over TAC, Hettinger said. They also caught approximately 58,800 pounds of lake trout in MM5 which is the TAC for those waters.
“In MM one, two and three we are allowed 50,000 pounds and we are at 30,000 pounds,” Hettinger said. “The purpose of the meetings will be to come to the public with three or four different options and gather public input.
“We can harvest less fish or smaller fish and that would get us in under the TAC. We know that lake trout regulations are complicated and want to develop rules that are easier for anglers to understand.”
The presentations from each meeting will be posted on the DNR website where anglers can see what was discussed and provide further feedback. See Michigan.gov/dnr. Click Fisheries, Managing Michigan’s Fisheries, Basins and Management Units, then Central Lake Michigan Management Unit.
© 2014 Howard Meyerson
This story appears in Michigan Outdoor News