New rules proposed to protect
lake's walleye, smallmouth bass
'The outlook for the 2003 hatch is not good'
Port Clinton News Herald
COLUMBUS -- Measures designed to provide long-term stability
for Lake Erie's walleye and smallmouth bass populations
are being proposed and may result in significant new fishing
regulations in the 2004 season.
The plan would reduce the springtime limit on walleyes
from four to three fish per day from March 1 to April
30. The limit for walleyes outside of the March 1 to April
30 period is planned to stay at six fish per day.
Also planned is a proposal creating a year-round walleye
size limit of 15 inches.
The proposals by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources'
Division of Wildlife will be finalized and presented later
this summer to the Ohio Wildlife Council to be effective
March 1, 2004.
"Poor weather conditions during recent springs have
resulted in inconsistent and minimal walleye reproduction
in Lake Erie," said Gary Isbell, executive administrator
for the division's Fish Management and Research Program.
"The outlook for the 2003 hatch is not good, based
on the cold, stormy spring this year."
Isbell said that while many anglers are reporting some
of the best catches seen in recent years, the concern
is for the future of the fishery since reproduction has
been poor in two of the past three years.
The Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission
has advised member agencies to prepare for a "40
percent to 60 percent reduction in total allowable catches
"All Lake Erie agencies are examining regulation
options best-suited to their area to meet this challenge,"
State fisheries biologists are also proposing closing
of smallmouth fishing in May and June, when the popular
sport fish are laying eggs and guarding their nests.
The proposal comes in response to concern that the round
goby, an invasive fish species, is adversely impacting
smallmouth populations by preying on bass eggs and fry.
Gobies arrived from eastern Europe in the ballast water
of transoceanic ships and have multiplied rapidly during
the 1990s, becoming abundant throughout Lake Erie.
Research conducted by the Division of Wildlife in conjunction
with The Ohio State University over the last three years
has documented that gobies are having a negative impact
on smallmouth reproduction, as higher populations of round
gobies dramatically decrease the number of smallmouth
in the nesting areas.
In addition, tagging studies conducted in cooperation
with the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association and Ohio Sea
Grant have confirmed limited movements or small home ranges
of smallmouth bass. Fish that are tagged and released
are likely to be found at a later time in the same location.
This raises concerns about removing smallmouth during
the spawning season, and explains how serious nesting
failures are to local populations.
Another potential negative factor impacting smallmouth
bass is the double-breasted cormorant, a bird that dives
to feed on small fish including small bass. Neither gobies
nor cormorants were present in Lake Erie just 10 years
No fishing regulation changes are proposed for yellow
perch or white bass.
The Division of Wildlife, based on a hearing to be scheduled
this summer, consultation with anglers, and further review
of the recent research information, will finalize the
proposals between now and September. Ohio Wildlife Council
action will likely take place in October.