For Immediate Release
Contact: Marc Gaden
April 22, 1996
Fishery managers from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York (the four Great Lakes States which border Lake Erie) and the Province of Ontario gathered recently in Grand Island, New York, to focus attention on issues relating to the health and productivity of the Lake Erie fishery. U.S. members of the Lake Erie Committee agreed that strong stocks of walleye and consistent stocks of yellow perch in the western and central basins warrant increases of allowable harvests in those areas, for those species, in 1996. Ontario was unable to commit at the time due to a provincial workers strike. Additionally, the Committee focused on the issue of Lake Erie ecosystem changes noting that decreased phosphorus levels and filter-feeding zebra mussels have had a significant impact on the Lake Erie ecosystem and on fish productivity.
U.S. members of the Lake Erie Committee recommended an increase of allowable harvests of walleye in the western and central basins of Lake Erie from 9 million fish in 1995 to 11 million fish in 1996. Although fishery managers expect a decline in stock size in 1997 (due to a poor year class in 1995), U.S. members agreed that the total allowable catch was conservative enough to protect the existing stocks and to allow for lakewide distribution while still allowing a modest increase in harvest.
"Lake Erie walleye continues to show strong abundance," said Lake Erie Committee member Doug Jester of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "We will keep a sharp eye on stocks over the next few years to determine just how large of an impact the poor 1995 year class will have on the overall walleye fishery."
Lake Erie yellow perch recruitment in 1995 continued to be low, especially in comparison to the large classes seen in the 1980s. However, the relatively stronger 1993 and 1994 yellow perch year classes will dominate the trapnet, gillnet, and sport fishing harvest. In 1995, the Lake Erie Committee adopted a lakewide harvest of 4 million pounds of yellow perch. In consideration of the expected contribution of the '93 and '94 year classes, U.S. members recommended increasing that harvest slightly in 1996 to 4.3 million pounds. The recommended allowable harvest is broken down by management unit:
Mgt. Unit #1: 1.4 million lbs.
Mgt. Unit #2: 2.0 million lbs.
Mgt. Unit #3: 0.8 million lbs.
Mgt. Unit #4: 0.1 million lbs.
Research scientists and biologists from Canada and the United States presented data demonstrating declines in Lake Erie productivity. Production of plant and animal plankton and the open water fish that feed on them (e.g. smelt) is demonstrably reduced lakewide, with the largest decrease in the east basin. Water clarity has increased dramatically from the combined effects of lower phosphorus levels due to pollution control and zebra mussel filter-feeding, resulting in increased aquatic macrophyte (rooted plants) abundance and in lower catchability for some fish species.
Some fish species have prospered as a result of the rapidly changing ecosystem, most notably lake whitefish, smallmouth bass and, in the western and central basins, walleye. The ecosystem is becoming more driven by bottom organisms and this may be a positive sign for bottom-feeding fish such as yellow perch. However, fishermen around the lake need to realize that these major and significant changes are not short term and may be permanent.
"The Lake Erie Committee believes that expectations for traditional fisheries must be tempered by the realities imposed by the ecosystem changes," commented Lake Erie Committee Chairman Ken Paxton of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. "Record high harvests experienced during recent decades for yellow perch, walleye, smelt, white bass, and even the exotic white perch, are unlikely to reoccur in the foreseeable future. Conversely, fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass appear to be increasing in many areas of the lake. The Lake Committee acknowledges these realities and conveys to the citizens around the lake its commitment to even better joint management of the Lake Erie fishery resource."
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