to rule on smelt fishing this week
By John Dipko
Green Bay Press-Gazette
The state Natural Resources Board meets Tuesday and Wednesday
in Baraboo. Action on agenda items is scheduled to start
at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Park Plaza Hotel, Glacier
Rock, 630 W. Pine St.
MADISON-The state Natural Resources Board is scheduled
to decide this week whether to forgo a legislative request
to let commercial smelt fishing continue on Green Bay
and instead keep a proposed five-year ban.
Natural Resources Secretary Scott Hassett is asking the
board to reaffirm the rule it passed in March to completely
close commercial trawling for smelt in the bay until at
least July 1, 2008.
Lawmakers could try to block the rule and allow a harvest
The board meets Tuesday and Wednesday in Baraboo.
At issue is the plummeting smelt population in Green
Bay and Lake Michigan, prompted in part by what biologists
suspect is an abundance of walleye, northern pike and
other popular stocked fish that prey upon smelt, according
to a memo from Hassett to the board.
Other possible factors include lake changes that produce
less food for smelt to eat and weather conditions that
havenít allowed for successful spawning.
The DNR also will make a separate proposal to close recreational
smelt fishing in the bay, the memo states. Hassett could
not be reached for comment Friday.
The current annual quota is 351,993 pounds combined for
the five commercial license holders that trawl for smelt
in the bay, said Michael Staggs, a bureau director for
Total smelt harvest from both water bodies plummeted
to 294,832 pounds last year from almost 1.84 million in
1990, DNR records show.
The Assemblyís Natural Resources Committee requested
in May that the board rewrite the ban and allow an annual
smelt harvest of 100,000 pounds during the current season
of June 15-Sept. 30 in Green Bay.
Legislators can ask the Natural Resources Board to make
the change and then take steps to block the rule if the
State Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, a committee member,
said the limited harvest is a reasonable compromise.
"If thereís no fish, the commercial fishermen wonít
go out there and waste their time," Bies said. "If
there are fish out there, they deserve the right like
anyone else to fish there. Thereís enough water for everybody."
The board also will consider requests to allow hearings
on fishing-related rule proposals that would:
Extend limits on the harvest of yellow perch from Green
Bay from a deadline of June 30 next year until June 30,
2006. Limits adopted in 2001 lowered the daily bag limit
for sport fishing to 10 from 25 and the annual commercial
harvest to 20,000 pounds from 200,000 pounds.
Require all commercial trap nets used in Lake Michigan
and Green Bay to be marked in a conspicuous and common