For Immediate Release

Contact: Marc Gaden


April 15, 1996

Serious Yellow Perch Decline Continues in Lake Michigan

Sport and Commercial Limits Retained to Conserve Adult Yellow Perch

Yellow perch abundance in Lake Michigan continued to decline precipitously in 1995, prompting the state and tribal fishery management agencies bordering Lake Michigan to maintain sport and commercial harvesting restrictions in 1996 and to seek an aggressive program to research the causes for the decline. The fishery managers, who make up the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's Lake Michigan Committee, met recently in Duluth, Minnesota and collectively agreed that the yellow perch decline requires tight quotas and bag limits in order to conserve the existing yellow perch stocks. Significant numbers of yellow perch larvae are not surviving well to the young-of-year (YOY) stage, which means the ageing adult populations are not being replaced readily by new generations of perch in Lake Michigan. Although scientists do not know the exact cause for the decline, they do agree that yellow perch larvae are not surviving to a harvestable age. The harvesting limits are designed to help preserve spawning age adults until the situation improves.

Lake Michigan Management agencies reported that compared to 1994, catch rates of mature yellow perch declined 30% in Wisconsin waters, 56% in Illinois waters, and 67% in Indiana waters. Captures of young-of-the-year perch continued to be very low for the sixth consecutive year, thus, the downward trend (which commenced in 1989) continues.

Because of this severe decline, state fishery agencies collaborated on reduced commercial catch quotas and reduced sport bag limits in 1995, with all four states closing the Lake Michigan perch fishery entirely during the month of June, 1995. The 1995 harvest regulations effectively reduced the number of perch harvested by 50% in comparison to 1994.

Last fall, the states of Wisconsin and Illinois agreed to maintain a daily sport bag limit of 25 yellow perch for anglers in 1996 and to continue a 65% reduction (from the 1994 level) in allowable commercial harvests. Since then, Indiana reduced its allowable commercial harvest to 16% of the 1994 level because assessment data show a larger yellow perch decline in Indiana waters than in other areas. Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana will again close the Lake Michigan yellow perch fishery in June. Wisconsin is currently reviewing assessment data collected this winter and may consider further changes in cooperation with the other states. Michigan will reduce its daily sport bag limit in 1996 from 50 to 35 yellow perch and will allow yellow perch sport fishing during the month of June. Michigan does not have a commercial yellow perch fishery.

"Lake Michigan Committee members recognize the seriousness of the yellow perch decline and what it means to the people who rely on the Lake Michigan fishery for sport and income," said Committee Chairman John Trimberger of the Michigan DNR. "Right now, our primary goals are to protect the existing broodstock of adult yellow perch and to determine why the larval perch are not surviving. The states have been working closely with sport and commercial fishing interests to communicate the importance of the bag limits and quotas and, generally, these fishery users have been cooperative and understanding."

In response to the yellow perch decline, fish chiefs from the states bordering Lake Michigan asked the Lake Michigan Committee's Yellow Perch Task Group to develop a multi-agency research initiative to identify the likely causes for the recent lack of yellow perch survival. The task group formulated several research proposals focusing on possible factors contributing to the decline including: predation on perch larvae by alewives; weather conditions; lack of food for young yellow perch; inadequate egg hatches; disease; and zebra mussel-caused water clarity (which may have increased young yellow perch's vulnerability to predation). The Lake Michigan Committee hopes this initiative will serve as the framework for yellow perch research in Lake Michigan.

"The research priorities developed by the task group will help us look more closely at factors we suspect are contributing to the yellow perch decline," said Richard Hess of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Task Group's Chairman. "It is the Task Group's hope that the implementation of the proposed research will represent another important step in the direction of the collaborative fishery management on an ecosystem basis"

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