Lake Erie Committee

For Immediate Release

Contact: Marc Gaden

April 8, 1997

313-662-3209 ext. 14

Lake Erie Yellow Perch Improving;

Lake Erie Committee Notes Significant Change in Smelt Productivity

ANN ARBOR, MI – Fishery managers from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario gathered recently in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to focus attention on the state of the Lake Erie fishery and to decide on allowable fish catch for 1997. Based on research and reports from its technical committees, the Lake Erie Committee agreed that increased stocks of yellow perch in Lake Erie warrant a 72% increase in allowable catch, from 4.3 million pounds last year to 7.4 million pounds in 1997. The committee also noted, however, that a series of smaller year classes of walleye necessitate a 10% decrease in walleye allowable catch, from 11 million fish in 1996 to 9.7 million fish in 1997. The committee used this meeting as an opportunity to consider the condition of rainbow smelt in Lake Erie, noting that significant changes in eastern basin productivity dim the outlook for future smelt abundance.

1997 Yellow Perch and Walleye Harvest

Members of the Lake Erie Committee recommended a 72% increase in allowable catch of yellow perch from 4.3 million pounds in 1996 to 7.4 million pounds in 1997. Said committee Chairman Ken Paxton of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, "We are very pleased with the abundance of yellow perch in Lake Erie and with the trend toward larger year classes. The 1996 year class of yellow perch in Lake Erie was excellent and provides the committee with a comfort zone, permitting higher allowable catch without jeopardizing the strength of the yellow perch fishery." The recommended allowable catch, by management unit (MU) in millions of pounds is:

1996 1.4 2.0 0.8 0.1
1997 2.4 3.6 1.2 0.2

Most of the increase in allowable catch will occur in the western basin of Lake Erie, as yellow perch productivity is higher there, compared to the eastern basin.

The Lake Erie Committee opted for a more conservative allowable walleye catch because of a weak 1995 walleye year class. The committee lowered the allowable catch from 11 million fish in 1996 to 9.7 million fish in 1997. Lake Erie Committee member Rob MacGregor, of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, explains: "We know that because of the poor 1995 year class, the three and four year-old walleye harvested this year will not be readily replaced by the younger walleye. By lowering the total allowable catch in 1997, we are, in essence, saving fish for future years in hopes of preserving a stable fishery and preventing a ‘boom or bust’ situation."

Rainbow Smelt Productivity

The Lake Erie ecosystem has experienced declines in productivity that are most pronounced in the eastern basin. During its meeting, the committee noted that rainbow smelt, an exotic species, flourished in Lake Erie at a time when phosphorus and plankton levels were high and predator populations were low. The conditions were well suited to smelt at that time.

In the 1990s, however, significant declines in smelt in the eastern basin occurred. Given the changes that are occurring in the eastern basin with respect to predators, phosphorus, and plankton effects, the expectation for a large, stable supply of smelt in the eastern basin is not high. Should there be further productivity declines in the central basin of Lake Erie, similar concerns over smelt may emerge there as well.

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