New Great Lakes Fishing Decree now in effect

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — The latest Great Lakes Fishing Decree has taken effect, and its guidelines for certain Great Lakes fisheries in Michigan will be in place for the next 24 years.

The decree was approved Aug. 24, by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, and went into effect this week.

It’s the third version of the Great Lakes Fishing Decree since 1985–and it’s important to take a look at the updates, officials say.

“It is important to review the updated maps within the decree to understand where commercial fishing nets may be located,” said Nick Torsky, a supervisor within the Department of Natural Resources. “Being careful and vigilant for commercial fishing nets while on the water is critical to public safety.”

The 2023 decree includes many updates, including which areas tribal commercial fishers can use, as well as the reporting requirements for the fishing industry, DNR officials said.

Anglers may see nets in locations they are not used to. Commercial fishing nets are marked with staff buoys that extend 4 feet above the surface of the water and have an orange flag that is 16 inches by 16 inches in size. Anglers and boaters who encounter nets should give them a wide berth and not interfere with commercial fishing activity. (Photo/Michigan DNR)

In the 1836 Treaty of Washington, five area tribes–the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians–reserved fishing rights in certain parts of Michigan’s Great Lakes waters.

The first fishery management pact, in 1985, arose from tensions between tribal commercial operations and sport anglers. An updated version went into effect in 2000, continuing until this year.

DNR officials say the Great Lakes ecosystem has changed “substantially” since 2000. Fishing regulations have been amended in response, and patterns within commercial fishery are also likely to change.

“Anglers may see nets in locations they are not used to,” said Torsky.

Gillnets, which form a wall of netting that hang in the water, are a particularly controversial part of the new fishing decree. Critics say gillnets indiscriminately catch and kill too many fish.

The new decree allows tribes to use the gillnets in more places, restricting the depth of the water, the time of year and how much netting they use.

“Expanded gill netting now allowed in bays and other areas of the lakes that haven’t had them for more than 40 years will cause social and biological consequences,” said Tony Radjenovich, president of the Coalition to Protect Michigan Resources.

As part of the 2000 pact, the state spent more than $14 million paying tribal fishing operations to switch from gillnets to the more selective trap nets.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney said in his 139-page opinion that, as the updated version of the pact continues with limits on how many fish are caught, the type of net the tribes use shouldn’t be relevant.

“Whether they meet that harvest limit quickly by using the efficient method of gill nets, or whether they meet that harvest limit over time by using less efficient means of fishing, the tribes are still subject to the same harvest limits regardless of gear used,” Judge Maloney said.

You can see the 2023 Fishing Decree here.

CBS News contributed to this report.

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