The Lake Michigan Commercial Fishing Board has requested the Department of Natural Resources begin developing a rule to allow the commercial netting of lake trout in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan.
"We feel the time is now," said Charlie Henriksen, president of the board, at a LMCFB meeting Monday.
The prospect of opening the lake to commercial harvest of lake trout has been discussed since 2016 but no rule has been proposed. So the LMCFB made a formal request on the issue Wednesday to the DNR and Natural Resources Board.
After being decimated in the mid-20th century by sea lampreys, the lake trout population in Lake Michigan has increased in recent decades through stocking efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well as protective sport fishing regulations.
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Natural reproduction of lake trout is now common in the lake.
The species is designated as a sport fish in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan but no commercial fishing is allowed for it. Tribal fishermen in Michigan are allowed to net lake trout in that state's waters.
Todd Kalish, DNR deputy fisheries director, said Friday the agency would begin looking at models on the lake trout population and consider the commercial fishers' request.
"We're open (for discussions)," Kalish said. "When we increased the lake trout sport bag limit a few years ago we said we'd also consider the a change in commercial fishing."
Researchers at the Qualitative Fisheries Center at Michigan State University have developed two models for Lake Michigan lake trout, including one that forecasts the population under various harvest and stocking scenarios.
Kalish said the DNR would review reports from the models when they are completed as part of their process.
An administrative rule change would have to be approved to allow commercial fishing for lake trout in Lake Michigan. The scope statement would be the first step in the likely years-long process.
"Although we greatly appreciate the interest from the commercial fishing board on this, we need to do more work," Kalish said. "We are not ready to submit a scope statement because we feel the info we need to properly begin this conversation isn't complete. And before we can have constructive conversations on this we need to talk to all stakeholders."
Bob Wincek, president of the Great Lakes Sportfishing Federation, said his group was against the idea of allowing commercial fishing for lake trout.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Commercial fishers begin bid to net lake trout on Lake Michigan