Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Imposing Bag Limits on Sport Fishing - How many fish should you keep?

Self-Imposed Bag Limits

Most states have bag or catch limits for many species of fish. The bag limits are designed to allow anglers to keep a set limit of any specific species of fish to prevent over fishing and maintain healthy fish populations.

While these state regulated bag and size limits are meant to limit catches by anglers, the same rules apply to river guides or fishing charters, however; they tend to catch ore fish than the average angler. Many knowledgeable river guides and charter boats impose “self-imposed” bag limits, others do not.

The purpose of this article is to mainly draw attention to imposing bag limits of steelhead by river guides and charter boats along Michigan waterways, including lakes, streams and the Great Lakes.

Steelhead-an adromous form of the Rainbow Trout was introduced into Michigan in 1876 from the Pacific coast. The steelheads were introduced into Lake Michigan in 1880 (Paw-Paw and Boyne Rivers). Original fish from the McCloud River in California, various stocks may have been introduced in later years. Michigan winter strain –Little Manistee River brood stock and Skamania (summer strain) –began stocking in Michigan in 1984, Indiana brood stock.

Life History of the Steelhead

• Spawning occurs during late winter to late spring in rivers; juveniles migrate from streams to Lake Michigan after 1 –3 years.

• Adults spend 1 –5 years in the lake before returning to spawn.

• Stream diet is primarily insects; lake diet is composed of insects, alewife, rainbow smelt, bloater, yellow perch, etc.

• Growth is affected by year-class strength, lake population size and abundance of forage.

• Year-class strength is affected by stream fish densities, stream flow, and winter severity. Stocking moderates this.

Why is either self imposed or limits by your states fishery department required limiting the numbers of fish caught by river guides and charters? Well, self-imposed bag limits ensure that our pristine wilderness environment and fish populations will remain for years to come.

Most of the area river guides and charter captains that I know or have fished with do practice catch and release and or limit the number of fish kept by paying customers. Most of these “professional” guides know the importance of preserving not only OUR natural resources but also protecting their livelihood as well.

These professional guides and captains know that it is important to maintain healthy fish populations of not only the mighty steelhead, but also salmon, walleye and many other Michigan sport fish.

I witness anglers every season along my property on and inland lake called, Hess Lake, keep more fish that is legally allowed, but I can understand the ignorance of some fishermen over those that are suppose to be professionals.

Why does one river guide elect to have his passion for fishing and Michigan’s great natural resources affect his livelihood and not allow any customer to keep ANY fish on a paid, guided steelhead fishing trip in which a customer may pay the guide upwards of $300.00 or more per day?

Why are particular guides willing to sacrifice their businesses and income to protect our natural resources, when other guides and charters are so erroneously eager to allow clients to keep every fish landed as long as it meets government guides lines?

The guides and charters that allow their customers to keep fish, are operating well within the law, however; they are raping our lakes, river’s and streams of an already over fished species.

I hear reports from guests of my vacation rental business, fellow anglers and professional guides and charters that they see other guides and charters allowing clients to keep stringers or coolers full of their days catch.

Some guides that I know, allow clients to keep one steelhead that may be cooked for a shore-lunch on a particular guided trip. These professionals are practicing sustainable sports angling management. My hat goes off to these professionals.

However; this is not a problem that is limited to Michigan rivers, lakes and streams or just the steelhead for that matter. A recent article by Beth Daley of THE GLOBE reports similar problems with one of the worlds most renowned fishing grounds for cod off the shores of New Jersey and Connecticut.

“By 5 a.m. most days, bleary-eyed fishermen pile out of cars with New Jersey and Connecticut license plates in Green Harbor parking lots. In groups of six, they board charter boats and stake out a position with rod and reel”.

“Within two hours, the boats are working one of the world's most renowned fishing grounds, hooking cod after cod. The fish can get shin-deep on deck and the customers - all recreational fishermen - sometimes need help carrying coolers packed with fresh fillets off the boat. They are catching so much cod, in fact, that regulators now see them as a major factor in the regions over fishing crisis”.

“At a time when hard-pressed commercial fishermen face strict limits on where they can fish and how many cod they can catch, charter boats are prospering from a loophole in fishing rules: They can go anywhere and catch as many fish as they want”.

Finally federal regulators are cracking down on all recreational cod fishing - not just charters - to comply with a federal judge's order to better control over fishing. As early as May 1, all New England sportsmen could face a larger minimum size on cod they can keep. Charter boats would be prohibited from their prime fishing grounds, and anglers on private boats could see the number of cod they're allowed to keep on trips reduced from 10 to 5.

“In Georgia the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resources Division (CRD) will hold a public meeting on proposed changes to state fishing regulations for black sea bass and red porgy”.

“Black sea bass and red porgy are popular with offshore anglers but rarely occur in Georgia’s territorial waters (extending to 3 miles in the Atlantic Ocean), preferring instead deeper areas of the continental shelf. However, because they are federally managed and are landed in Georgia, the state has implemented fishing regulations to support those developed by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC)”.

This is the same scenario being played out by government agencies, conservation agencies and fishermen from coast to coast,

Individual states also are proposing limits. Massachusetts, where fishermen are reported to taking u-haul loads of cod, “officials want to increase size minimums and restrict charter boat customers to 15 fish each during the main fishing season”.

In Florida, “the Gulf Amberjack fishery will shutdown early; the closure could fester into 2010. Based on recent catch data from regulators, NOAA scientists determined the recreational quota for Amberjacks to be full. Therefore, the greater amberjack lockout will start Oct. 24 and will continue at least until the end of the year”.

Other reasons for self-imposing bag limits is that technology has gotten better, especially for charter boats from GPS, sonar, faster boats, guides know every hole, swill and backwater - and guides especially need to be conscious of how many fish they take for this very reason.

Responsible Anglers

It seems like everyone likes to go fishing! Boys, girls, moms, dads and even grandparents like to fish. More than 50 million Americans fish. Local state ran fisheries are responsible for maintaining healthy and productive fish populations.

What is responsible fishing to one person, may not be good fishing to another. Some anglers don't care what they catch as long as they catch something.

Other anglers are only interested in certain species of fish.

Some want to catch lots of fish while others want big fish and others don't care if they catch anything as long as they get to relax and enjoy the beautiful outdoors.

Managing Fish Populations

A fishery manager must first consider the habitat in order to manage fish. As you have likely learned, fish require the right water temperature, oxygen level, food source and cover, especially trout and steelhead. If you stocked a trout in warm water, it would not survive very long. Likewise, if you put pike in a lake without vegetation, it wouldn't do well either.

Most fish will spawn naturally and produce their own young. In these cases, a fishery manager does not have to stock fish every year. The fish replenish the waters on their own. A manager will improve the habitat, regulate the catch and try to balance the populations of fish species sharing the aquatic environment.

The problem with spawning steelhead and salmon is that while professionl guides do not allow anglers to rape the beds or keep spawing females, others do not care as the females are harvested for their eggs. Salmon eggs are popular for a steelhead bait know as spawn, spawn sacs or roe. After an angler harvests the eggs, often time the carcass if left on the shore to get washd into the water further casing problms in the eco system.

Hatcheries and Fish Stocking

Federal and state hatcheries raise many kinds of fish for stocking. Fry, the smallest fish stocked, are the least costly to raise, but many of them die after release. Adult fish survive better but cost more to raise. States often stock trout because they are fairly easy to raise, are good sport fish, and aren't as costly as other species.

While our fisheries do a great job in balancing poulations and species, our guides and charter captains need to start doing their part and impose self-imposed bag limits and start practicing sustainable sports angling management, or face strict limits from our state fisheries department.

In conclusion, please be conscious with regards to how many fish you keep, escpecially if they are not a re-stocked species such as steelhead and salmon. We all need to preserve and protect our fish population for future generations to enjoy.

Note from editor: Article by Brent Vanderslelt and edited by Sherri Russell

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