Officials ensure quality fisheries
The fishing community, like other segments of our society, thrives on conjecture and is perfectly willing to run with rumors when it comes to the condition of our fisheries.
I hear all manner of terrible news from my fishing associates, much of it circling around the reasons we fail more often than we succeed out on our lakes. From “fish kills” to overharvest, people prefer to find something to blame when they aren’t catching them rather than figure out new locations and techniques.
As often as not, the catastrophic events anglers suspect have impacted their walleyes, bass, perch and other favorite species are simply rumors that seem plausible enough on the surface.
Fortunately, we have scientists who study and manage our fisheries here in Ohio. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife fisheries biologists and managers are well armed with facts and data from electroshocking and creel surveys on inland lakes and from elaborate studies and population counts on Lake Erie.
At the recent Lake Erie Central Basin Sport Fish Summit, experts shared high quality information about walleyes, perch, smallmouth bass, steelhead trout and other species.
Travis Hartman, the Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie program manager, reported the process for setting limits for the popular yellow perch is based on information that provides an accurate population model. The Yellow Perch Task Group then recommends the allowable harvest, which this year is 2.9 million pounds for sport-caught perch.
One of the major concerns of perch anglers is the commercial fishing. Many fear it jeopardizes the population and reduces the number available for sport fishers.
Ohio fisheries managers say, however, that no commercial harvest is allowed during the spawning season, and the harvest quota is established at a limit they believe can sustain the reproducing population.
Factors that affect perch fishing success include the low oxygen zones that exist during the summer from the Bass Island region eastward toward Cleveland. Perch are susceptible to hypoxia, and they avoid the low oxygen zones, which in turn changes where perch are dispersed.
Perch also change their feeding habits during the year. For much of the spring and summer, they eat minnows. But as fall approaches, scientists have discovered, perch start feeding more on the abundant invertebrate species in Lake Erie.
Division of Wildlife Fairport Fisheries Supervisor Dr. Janice Kerns reported that Lake Erie walleyes in recent years have been caught at a rate of about 1.5 fish per angler per hour, while the harvest rate is around 0.5 fish per angler hour.
As it is with yellow perch, population models are used to adjust the projected harvest from year to year. Sport fisherman can take 3.6 million pounds of walleye this year and leave the population in good shape for the years ahead.
Kerns also said 450,000 7- to 9-inch steelhead are stocked annually in rivers such as the Chagrin, Conneaut, Grand, Ashtabula and Rocky. A number of lake trout also inhabit Erie thanks to a 2012 stocking.
A large percentage of the smallmouth bass population in Lake Erie is in the 6-year-old class, which explains the quality of the fish that anglers encounter.
The quality of the information available to Ohio’s fisheries managers enables good decisions on limits and seasons.