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DNR proposes a study on the effect of commercial gill nets on Lake Michigan

Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 4:10 p.m. CT Dec. 2, 2017 | Updated 5:26 p.m. CT Dec. 2, 2017

The Department of Natural Resources has proposed a study of the impacts of commercial gill netting on non-target sport fish such as chinook salmon and brown trout in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan.

Commercial fishers in Zone 3 have lobbied the agency for the ability to use large mesh gill nets to catch lake whitefish.

The gear has been prohibited in the zone, which covers the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan south of Bailey's Harbor, to prevent bycatch and mortality of sport fish as well as user conflicts.

However, large mesh gill nets are allowed for commercial fishing in northern Lake Michigan and part of Green Bay.

Commercial fishers have requested the same opportunity in Zone 3.

The agency is open to considering a large mesh gill net study in the area, Brad Eggold, DNR Great Lakes district supervisor, said in a statement.

"This study would help determine if commercial fishers can more safely and efficiently meet their quotas for whitefish and save on their costs without impacting other fish and sport anglers," Eggold said.

Whitefish are the primary target of current commercial fishers in Lake Michigan. The DNR sets whitefish harvest quotas in the zone. 

Lake Michigan commercial fishing zones. Zone 3 covers the Wisconsin waters from Bailey's Harbor south to the Illinois border. (Photo: DNR)

The agency did not state how many sets of gear would be involved or the duration of the potential study.

The idea of large mesh gill nets indiscriminately killing fish in southern Lake Michigan waters is unsettling to many sport anglers and conservation groups.

"We are very, very concerned about bycatch of trout and salmon," said Bob Wincek, president of the Milwaukee chapter of Great Lakes Sport Fishermen. "We've worked for years to carefully develop and manage the sport fishery, and we want to make sure it's given adequate protections."

Wincek did not outright oppose the study but said he and his group would look closely at the details.

 "The forage base is down in the lake," Wincek said. "With less food available in the lake, we are especially worried about overfishing."

The DNR has scheduled two public meetings on the potential study. Input gathered will help the agency develop benchmarks, criteria, and goals that will be incorporated into a potential large mesh gill net study and assessment, according to the agency.

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The meetings will be held:

Dec. 5, 5-7 p.m., in conjunction with the Lake Michigan Commercial Fishing Board, DNR Service Center, Lake Michigan Room, 2984 Shawano Ave., Green Bay.

Dec. 7, 6-8 p.m. during the Lake Michigan Fisheries Forum, Lakeshore Technical College, Wells Fargo Room, 1290 North Ave., Cleveland.

Comments can also be sent by email before Dec. 10 to dnrlakemichiganplan@wisconsin.gov.

Bear, turkey application deadline: Dec. 10 is the application deadline for 2018 Wisconsin bear hunting permits and spring turkey hunting permits. 

Both bear and turkey harvest authorizations are issued via drawings; successful applicants are notified by mail.

Bear hunters must apply for several years in some management zones before they receive a harvest authorization. Bear hunters can apply for a permit or purchase a preference point for future years. 

Several thousand turkey permits typically remain after the initial drawing and are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Leftover turkey permits are normally offered for sale in March.

Visit dnr.wi.gov to apply for permits or obtain more information.

For the full story with photos and graphs, please visit: https://www.jsonline.com/story/sports/outdoors/2017/12/02/dnr-proposes-study-effect-commercial-gill-nets-lake-michigan/904982001/

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