After a multi-month process which included public meetings, a web-based survey and further internal discussion and review, the DNR Fisheries Division is recommending to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) that no change be made to the current harvest limit of five brook trout per day for Michigan’s upper peninsula. As most who have been following this process know, there has been urging by some in the upper peninsula to restore the prior daily creel limit of ten fish ever since the year-2000 change in regulations. The recommendation is now in, and although the initial judge will be the NRC itself, we’ve been told that the ultimate jury on this issue may well be the State Legislature.
As we have written in the past, fisheries and wildlife management issues which tend to divide the hunter-angler community along the lines of method of take and pursuit, species, and geography are especially unfortunate. In this case, the comments which were received together with the survey results suggest that the disagreement on this issue was more greatly associated with fishing methods (flies and artificials versus bait) than by geography. Nearly double the number of survey respondents opposed a harvest increase to 10 fish as did those who were in support.
Further evidence that this issue did not break down solely along the Straits of Mackinac is supported by the fact that a considerable petition effort to oppose such a change was led by a U.P. fishing guide and other area residents. Very simply summarized, the survey results indicate that those who opposed a harvest increase were largely fly or artificial lure anglers who mostly subscribe to catch and release, while those who supported the change primarily used bait and mostly kept those fish which were legally harvestable – no shock on either count.
Ideally, however, such a decision should be based upon science and not politics or social surveys. In this case the science supporting or opposing such a change was considered to have been limited and conflicting. In fact, the Fisheries Division’s original comments contained in an August, 2011 PowerPoint presentation stated that “the effect of the proposed change on brook trout populations is expected to be minimal.” These comments were seen by supporters of the limit increase as having science of their side. Others who were in opposition noted that much of the data which were being used by the Fisheries Division to come to such a conclusion was based upon research which was available prior to the original year-2000 change which gave us the current statewide limit of five fish per day.
In the absence of science, or in instances where a regulatory decision is likely to have minimal or no effect on a resource, it does seem reasonable to employ an approach of this type. In this case, it was a process which allowed for a public comment period together with a concurrent internal review by the respective Division (in this case Fisheries) with a final recommendation submitted to the Natural Resources Commission. Absent a compelling reason to do otherwise, the NRC should support the recommendations and conclusion formed by the Division and move on.
As we move forward with fewer funds being available for all types of fisheries (and wildlife) research, we can expect more decisions being made in this manner. If we can have the deer baiting and feeding ban lifted in Michigan’s lower peninsula largely for socio-economic reasons, then having a fisheries decision based upon one part science and two parts public comment and survey seems both reasonable and appropriate. Wherever you stand on this issue, we should collectively hope that such a decision is not trumped by a future piece of legislation which includes a provision to arbitrarily undo and circumvent a collective effort of this type.