The DNR is introducing a new format that would simplify special regulations for four species of game fish on individual lakes.
Known as a "regulation toolbox," the format would help the DNR maintain and improve walleye, bass, crappie and sunfish populations on individual lakes through simple and commonly applied regulations. Toolbox regulations would be more restrictive than existing statewide regulations and include the following:
* Walleye: 3 possession limit, 17-inch minimum size limit, or 17 to-26 inch protected slot size limit;
* Largemouth and smallmouth bass: No harvest or a 12-inch maximum size limit. Both regulations would include the option of allowing harvest of one fish over 20 inches;
* Sunfish: 5 fish possession limit;
* Crappie: 5 fish possession limit, 10-inch minimum size limit, or a 5 fish possession limit with a 10-inch minimum size limit.
Each of the nine options is restrictive enough to result in a measurable difference in fish size or quality. The outcome, according to Ron Payer, manager of the DNR Section of Fisheries, would be to have fewer variations of special regulations yet potentially apply them to more water bodies.
"Ultimately, this will be simpler for anglers who would have fewer regulations to remember," Payer said. "Many special regulations, though socially and politically acceptable, have not resulted in a measurable difference in size or quality. Simply put, regulations that require no pain result in no gain in fish size or quality."
Interest at the local level would determine how many lakes are considered for toolbox regulations. Each of the 28 area fisheries managers across the state will be asked to consider regulations in the toolbox first when selecting regulations to meet the management needs of a specific water body. Payer said the new format will be on the agenda at the annual DNR fishing roundtable in January.
Generally, bass and walleye populations are considered in good shape statewide, especially in the large natural walleye lakes. Therefore, the proposed bass and walleye regulations are designed to maintain the populations. But the average size of sunfish and crappies have been on a downward trend for many years. In the case of sunfish, the regulation will help maintain current size where populations of large sunfish already exist. For crappie, the proposed regulation aims to improve the population.
Aside from reducing confusion for anglers, the regulation toolbox should improve fisheries management in several ways. Fisheries managers will have ready-made regulations that could be tailored to their work area, leaving more time for productive discussion with anglers and others who support conservation regulations. Another benefit, Payer said, is that researchers will be better able to measure the success of each regulation because it will be applied to a greater number of lakes. Fisheries managers would also be able to consider options outside the regulations toolbox if there are significant special circumstances.
Citizens or local fisheries managers who want more restrictive regulations on an individual lake to maintain or improve the fishery would be encouraged to first consider the regulations from the group of toolboxes. Once a regulation is agreed upon, the state's rule-making process would begin. The process includes posting the proposed regulation change at public boat-launching sites, publishing notices in the local newspaper and conducting public meetings, the same process used for all existing experimental and special regulations.
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