Nothing stays the same in nature. Everything is dynamic and changes over time, including our favorite fishing lakes. When these changes cause us to catch less fish or deplete the species we want to catch natural resources agencies are called upon to put things back where we think they belong. This almost is never an easy task.
Managing nature can be an effort in futility. Natural systems eons old are hard to change. But we try. The resulting programs often require intense maintenance to avoid outright failure.
Perhaps the most apparent example of bending nature to meet our wants is fish stocking. A lake can support only certain fish species. Years ago, fisheries managers started stocking popular fish like walleyes and trout in lakes where they didn't belong. The hope was that the introduced fish would catch on and reproduce at levels that would remove the need for additional stocking.
The reality is that introduced fish are mostly wiped out by fishermen, predators or intolerable conditions. Stocking has created a Pandora's Box for fisheries managers. Stocking provides enough fish to satisfy angler demand, but preserving an unnatural fishery requires significant money and manpower. But we expect to catch walleyes in many lakes and don't want to give that up.
The lake I grew up on and continue to fish today is an example. At one time it might have naturally-produced walleyes, but the fishery has been supported by stocking for many years. The lake supports walleyes due to abundant yellow perch and other forage. But forces not readily seen are re-creating the lake's identity.
The walleye population is down. Northern pike are abundant. Yellow perch have almost disappeared. Recently in three days of ice fishing we caught more than 30 northerns, but no walleyes or perch. Likely these changes are related to each other and have occurred because the lake isn't meant to be what we're trying to make it. Certainly we want more walleye fingerlings or fry, which may or may not produce good fishing again.
Public pressure to produce good fishing is an ongoing struggle for the DNR, lake associations and fishing clubs. There's no evident answer. New bag limits for some species are being set and some lakes will get special harvest regulations. Better ways might be found to manage our artificial fisheries, but it will never be easy.
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