By Howard Meyerson
GRAND RAPIDS, MI. — Anglers will be able to keep 10 brook trout per day on eight Upper Peninsula streams when the 2015 fishing season opens. DNR Director Keith Creagh earlier this month approved experimental regulations for three new U.P. streams where the usual five-brook-trout daily limit will be doubled.
The new additions come two years after similar regulations were approved for five other U.P. streams. The experimental 10-fish bag limit will stay in place until 2017 while state fisheries managers study the impact on native brook trout populations, and angling activity across the U.P.
“This was part of the original agreement (in 2012) with the Natural Resources Commission when the first five were designated,” said Phil Schneeberger, Michigan DNR’s Lake Superior Basin Coordinator.
The newly minted experimental brook trout streams are Bryan Creek in Marquette and Dickinson counties, Lower Rock River in Alger County, and Presque Isle River in Gogebic County. The other five include portions of the Dead River in Marquette County, Driggs River in Schoolcraft County, East Branch Ontonagon River in Houghton and Iron counties, East Branch Tahquamenon River in Chippewa County, and East Branch Huron River in Baraga and Marquette counties.
Earlier designations lacking pre-change survey data
“What was missing from the original five was (pre-rule change) data,” Schneeberger told Michigan Outdoor News. “In this interim period, we’ve tried to get information about these (newly designated) and other candidate streams. We will have two years of pre-regulation data to compare with post-regulation information.”
Angling groups, tribal representatives and academics were invited to be part of a discussion, held in August, to determine which three of five candidate streams would make the cut. Two segments that were not chosen are Two Mile Creek in Dickinson County, and Upper Rock River in Alger County.
Schneeberger said the entire Presque Isle River was selected rather than the east branch as originally proposed. Water temperature studies showed the east branch was “not great trout water,” and it was difficult to determine a clear and enforceable boundary for the 10-trout regulation.
Average guy wants 10-fish limits
Marcy Cella and her husband, Dave Cella, hope to see the 10-brook trout limit eventually expanded to every Upper Peninsula stream. The L’Anse-area couple enjoys eating brook trout, but five, they say, isn’t enough to provide a decent meal for the two of them.
“These fish up here don’t get very big, and they don’t live long because it’s so cold,” Marcy Cella said. “This isn’t lower Michigan where fish live longer. Why can’t we have as many as we want?
“My husband is 80 years old. He’s been fishing these U.P. rivers since he was 16. As a result of the state changing (lowering) the brook trout limit to five per day in 2000, he stopped fishing for them. He’s not a violator. I can eat five brook trout myself. Why would he go to all the work of catching them and not get any?”
Cella contends her point of view is widely held by the average Upper Peninsula angler who works and fishes to feed the family. It is different from the downstate and other U.P anglers who practice catch and release.
“If you can’t feed a family of two, how do you feed a family of four?” Cella questioned. “I represent people who don’t have a voice because they work and don’t participate (in DNR surveys). Many tell me they want a 10-brook trout limit. We’re talking the hook and worm guy; the average guy that is unreached.”
Schneeberger said survey results show anglers are still split about 50/50 about the proposition of raising the brook trout limit on Upper Peninsula rivers. There was no “outright opposition” to adding three more streams, but he doesn’t think collecting more data is going to change anyone’s mind.
“Fisheries science, not political science”
Jim Cantrill, the vice president of the Fred Waara Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Marquette, said “Whatever the limit is, five or 10 brook trout, we don’t care as long as science supports the position and that it won’t harm the resource.
“We agree that it would be great to get more people out in the woods fishing, and we have no problem with taking fish home for dinner. But we need to use the tools at our disposal and the science that supports it. This should be based on fisheries science, not political science.”
Schneeberger said the DNR will continue to collect data through 2017. That includes information about each stream, the status of its brook trout population, and those who come looking for them. The results will be compared at that time with data collected prior to the rule change and with data from control streams nearby that continue to have five-brook trout limits. Electrofishing studies to date show a lot of natural variability from year to year, he said, based on factors other than angling pressure – things like temperature and snowpack.
“It will be difficult to say anything conclusive, but we will do our best,” Schneeberger said. “If we find an adverse impact, we would keep the regulations at five brook trout U.P.-wide. If we don’t find an adverse impact, it will be an open question.
Do we keep the 10-fish bag on these eight streams, or expand it?”
© 2014 Howard Meyerson
This story appears in Michigan Outdoor News.