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Great Lakes Article:

Board to rule on smelt fishing this week
By John Dipko
Green Bay Press-Gazette

Whatís next

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 to continue.

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 the DNR.

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 board refuses.

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 way.

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