Brookie survey continues in Upper Peninsula

By Howard Meyerson

MARQUETTE, MICH. – Upper Peninsula fisheries managers are collecting data from b6ac3c1202c15e5fdfc0bdbe8d3dfb55five U.P. brook trout streams this season with the intent of adding three of those to the state’s experimental brook trout stream category in 2015. Five streams were designated as experimental in 2012 after months of public debate following a DNR proposal to double the daily creel limit to 10 trout per day all across the Upper Peninsula.

The blanket recommendation proved controversial and was met by opposition from a cross-section of anglers, as well as expressed concerns from academics and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials who were working to protect coaster brook trout streams. DNR fisheries biologists said then that computer modeling showed brook trout populations would not be adversely impacted by the proposed change.

The experimental category was established as a compromise. It went into effect in 2013 with a promise that studies would be conducted to determine the impact of increasing the creel limit.

“We’re adding three more streams because it was the NRC’s and public desire to have that from the start,” said Phil Schneeberger, the DNR’s Lake Superior basin coordinator. “We’re gathering information on five candidate streams and will make a decision in fall about which three to add.”

THREE OF FIVE CANDIDATES TO BE ADDED TO EXPERIMENTAL REGS

The candidate streams are Bryan Creek in Marquette and Dickinson counties, Two Mile Creek in Dickinson County, the Upper and Lower Rock River in Alger County, and the East Branch of the Presque Isle River in Gogebic County. The five current experimental streams are the East Branch of the Huron River in Baraga and Marquette counties, the East Branch of the Ontonagon River in Houghton and Iron counties, the Driggs River in Schoolcraft County, the East Branch of the Tahquamenon River in Luce County, and the Dead River in Marquette County.

“The streams that were selected are fairly representative (of streams in the respective regions),” said Troy Zorn, a research biologist in the DNR’s Marquette Fisheries Research Station. “This is a five-year study and we will look at the composition of the catch and how it changes over time where the 10-fish limit is in place compared to other rivers that have a five-fish bag.”

Biological research began in 2013 on a number of the experimental and candidate segments. Creel surveys also were conducted on the East Branch of the Tahquamenon, and Bryan and Two Mile creeks. Anglers were surveyed about their attitudes and practices via postcard surveys left on cars at fishing access sites and using Survey Monkey, an online survey site. The results from 2013 have proved interesting, but provide only a limited snapshot.

“The creel surveys were done on the more popular fishing steams,” Schneeberger said. “We’d love to expand the creel effort, but that’s a very costly and time-intensive effort. “My guess is the data we will get from it will be good and interesting, but the fishing pressure is so low on those streams that the confidence (in the findings) will be in question. We will have to evaluate (whether to continue) after this year.”

ANGLER ATTITUDES STUDIED 

Of the anglers who participated in the various surveys:

  • 58 percent said they keep legal-size trout while 42 percent said they return them to the water;
  • 78 percent said a 10-fish bag has no effect on how often they fish a stream; 4 percent said they would fish there less; 8 percent said they would fish there more;
  • 55 percent thought a 10-fish bag limit would have a negative effect on the brook trout populations, 37 percent thought no effect;  8 percent thought a positive effect;
  • 57 percent prefer a five-fish limit; 43 percent prefer a 10-fish limit.

Anglers also were asked to rank the four most important factors that determine where to fish. The “quality of the fishing” was ranked highest followed (in descending order) by knowledge of the river, closeness to home, and the brook trout bag limit.

“It means people think everything else is more important when trying to decide where to go – the bag limit is least important,” Schneeberger said. “This is just one year of data and a small sample size, but these numbers are real and interesting,”

That 18 percent said they would fish more because of a 10-fish creel is something to consider, Schneeberger added.

“That was one of the biggest arguments put forward in favor of the 10-fish bag,” he said. “Commissioners (of the Natural Resources Commission) said if you increase the bag limit you will increase fishing (activity). Eighteen percent is a fair amount and that is something we are looking at.”

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© 2014 Howard Meyerson

This story appears in Michigan Outdoor News 

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