U.P. Brook Trout – The October Surprise

October 24, 2012

Conservation Policy, Fisheries

Regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself on, the one thing we can probably all agree on is that the deliberations concerning the daily harvest limit for Michigan upper peninsula  brook trout has been troubled from the onset. 

We last posted on the issue back in August (U.P. Brook Trout – The Recommendation Is In). This was when it was announced that after a multi-month process which included public meetings, a web-based survey and further internal discussion and review, the DNR Fisheries Division recommendation to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) was that no change be made to the current harvest limit of five brook trout per day for Michigan’s upper peninsula. This recommendation would have kept the limit uniform throughout the state.

At the time, we also alluded to the fact that this recommendation was unlikely to be the end of the story.  Pressure being exerted by members of the Natural Resources Commission as well as regional lawmakers has kept the issue in play, all of which led to last week’s electronic announcement that ten U.P. streams have now been proposed for an increase back to the pre-2000 harvest levels of ten fish.  Both the content and nature of the announcement has left many wondering what, if anything, was the purpose of the extensive public process which resulted in the August recommendation from the Fisheries Division?

In fairness to all, many had suspected that the process was doomed from the beginning. As we mentioned back in August, the DNR 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.   For this reason, there was nothing that was going to come out of the public survey process which would reverse the opinions of the proponents of the harvest increase.

While all of this was taking place, a new Director of the DNR was appointed by the Snyder administration who, in his defense, inherited what was likely a “no win” situation.  Although the approved minutes of the September and October NRC meetings were not available from the DNR website at the time of this writing, it is our understanding that the following series of events occurred since the August Fisheries recommendation.

First, an NRC action was taken to give the final authority over the U.P. brook trout decision to Director Creagh.  This was then followed by a directive from Director Creagh to the Fisheries Division to identify those streams most suitable for a daily harvest increase.  Although original discussions surrounded the possibility of the proposal being for less than ten streams, it was ultimately decided that the ten streams identified in the October 15, 2012 press release were the most suitable and consistent with some undisclosed criteria.

To compound the public relations problem resulting from this recommendation reversal, the DNR’s Coldwater Fisheries Steering Committee which had previously been engaged in this process was only notified of this new recommendation if they were subscribers to the DNR electronic press release system.  In addition to what may have been an unintentional slight to the Steering Committee, no other stakeholder group or others who had participated in the prior process was notified of the proposal in advance of its announcement.

Some might argue that this chain of events represents a reasonable effort to attain a compromise. Others see a new DNR Director not only failing to back the recommendation from a Division of the DNR charged with such matters, but ordering a policy reversal.

The reality is that this is not the first time, and will certainly not be the last, where the NRC or the DNR Director has elected to pursue political pragmatism over staff recommendations.   The truly unfortunate part is that the State no longer has sufficient financial resources to predict the implications of such decisions nor will it be able to accurately assess or repair the damage to the fragile trout populations if it were to occur. We can only hope that this attempt at compromise does not do just that; compromise the sustainability of our State Fish and further undermine public support of those charged with the management of our natural resources.

A final decision by the Director is expected in November and we would encourage you to share your comments with both Director Creagh (creaghk@michigan.gov 517-373-2329 ) and Fisheries Chief Jim Dexter (DexterJ1@michigan.gov  517-373-1280).

If you would like to review the Fisheries Division report which served as the basis for the original recommendation you may do so through the following link: UPBrook Trout Daily Possession Limit Review 7-9-12

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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