Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Brook Trout Kerfuffle

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “kerfuffle” as a “disturbance or commotion typically caused by a dispute or conflict.” If asked to use kerfuffle in a sentence, please feel free to say “The Michigan Natural Resources Commission’s process of increasing the bag limit on upper peninsula brook trout has been a seven-year kerfuffle.”

Without getting into the game of my science is better than yours, one may look no further than the timeline of events to see that this process has been seriously flawed from the outset. Although this unfortunate situation is one inherited by new DNR Director Dan Eichinger, a majority of Natural Resources Commission members seem to be committed to seeing this proposal through to its regulatory conclusion. Matters such as these are yet another reason why having any outgoing DNR Director immediately appointed to the Natural Resources Commission was a troubling precedent.

For those interested, there will be one final opportunity for public comment or to at least watch the process of brook trout sausage being made on March 14, 2019. This will be when the Natural Resources Commission next convenes at Shanty Creek Resorts, 5780 Shanty Creek Road, Bellaire, MI 49615. The Committee of the Whole will meet at 1:00 p.m. which will be immediately followed by public comment. To sign up for public comment, please email NRC@michigan.gov. Contact information for written comments to NRC members can be found through this link.

U.P. Brook Trout Bag Limit Proposal Timeline

Spring, 2012 – In response to Natural Resources Commissioner requests, the DNR Fisheries Division announced that it was considering a proposal to increase the bag limit for brook trout from 5 to 10 on Type 1 streams in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The DNR’s Coldwater Resources Steering Committee opposed the proposal and the Fisheries Division then announced its position was to maintain the current 5 fish limit regulation.

Fall, 2012 – In spite of these initial Fisheries Division recommendations, an “experimental study” proposal was approved by the NRC for five U.P. streams. It was understood that this was experimental – not a permanent change in regulations – and would be supplemented with angler surveys and further research.

2016 – The study was ended a year earlier than planned with no formal report being provided. Two general findings were made and presented by the Fisheries Division to the NRC (9/17) and Coldwater Resources Steering Committee (9/17). They were: 1) the experimental streams did not result in the stated objective to increase angler participation and, 2) it did provide evidence that if a 10 fish bag limit were approved, brook trout populations could significantly decrease.

2017 – In spite of these results, it was announced that several NRC members were seeking an expansion in the number of U.P. streams which would be open to the 10 brook trout bag limit. In December of 2017, the NRC voted to add 33 streams to the 10 brook trout bag limit. They also asked the DNR to review and evaluate whether any additional streams should be added that list.

October, 2018 – Additional streams were then proposed by the NRC for inclusion in the 10 brook trout bag limit list. Michigan Trout Unlimited and others announced their opposition to the proposal.

November, 2018 – The NRC mentioned it would not seek new streams for addition to the regulation. In November 2018, the NRC posted Fisheries Order 200.19 for action in December, which proposed removing all existing streams from the regulation, and removing the regulation entirely.

December, 2018 – Another DNR Fisheries Order was presented for NRC consideration and vote. Although the Order was approved by the NRC, it failed to list the names of those streams to be included in the 10 fish bag limit. If left to stand, this action effectively resulted in no streams being open to a 10 fish bag limit.

Later in December, 2018 to early January, 2019 – The stream name omission was identified by “DNR personnel” and the December Fisheries Order was unlawfully amended to include the names of 33 streams.

January, 2019 – The improper action taken to amend the December Fisheries Order was then identified. Most, but not all, NRC members indicated that they had voted in support of the Order based upon the list of 33 streams previously provided and viewed the “after the fact” amendment to the Order as being a technical correction. However, the Order that was posted and approved and executed was deemed to stand, without the 10 brook trout bag limit streams being listed.

February, 2019 – 2019 Fishing Guides are printed with the 33 U.P. streams listed as being open to a 10 fish bag limit in spite of the absence of proper NRC approval and despite the regulation not being in effect.

March 2019 – March NRC meeting agenda is presumed to include re-approval of the December Fisheries Order which will seek to memorialize the increase in brook trout bag limits for 33 U.P. streams.

 

If you’d like read the position paper written by Michigan Trout Unlimited in opposition to the proposal, it may be found here. This also includes some of the supporting documentation which has been previously referenced.

Paul A. Rose

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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