Article Posted: June 26, 2003

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Proposals would lower walleye catch limit, close smallmouth bass spawning season

COLUMBUS, OH -- Conservation measures designed to provide long-term
stability for Lake Erie's walleye and smallmouth bass populations are being
proposed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of
Wildlife and may result in significant new fishing regulations in the 2004
season. The proposals will be finalized and presented later this summer to
the Ohio Wildlife Council to be effective March 1, 2004.
ODNR's Division of Wildlife plans to propose reducing the springtime
limit on walleyes from four to three fish per day from March 1 - April 30.
The limit for walleyes outside of the March 1- April 30 period is planned to
stay at 6 fish per day. Also planned is a proposal creating a year-round
walleye size limit of 15 inches.
"Poor weather conditions during recent springs have resulted in
inconsistent and minimal walleye reproduction in Lake Erie," said Gary
Isbell, executive administrator for the Division of Wildlife's Fish
Management and Research Program. "The outlook for the 2003 hatch is not
good, based on the cold, stormy spring this year."
Isbell said that while many anglers are reporting some of the best
catches seen in recent years, the concern is for the future of the fishery
since reproduction has been poor in two of the past three years.
The Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission has
advised member agencies to prepare for a "40%-60% reduction in total
allowable catches (TAC) for 2004."
"All Lake Erie agencies are examining regulation options best-suited
to their area to meet this challenge," said Isbell.
State fisheries biologists are also proposing closing of smallmouth
fishing in May and June, when the popular sport fish are laying eggs and
guarding their nests.
The proposal comes in response to concern that the round goby, an
invasive fish species, is adversely impacting smallmouth populations by
preying on bass eggs and fry. Gobies arrived from eastern Europe in the
ballast water of transoceanic ships and have multiplied rapidly during the
1990s, becoming abundant throughout Lake Erie.
Research conducted by the Division of Wildlife in conjunction with
The Ohio State University over the last three years has documented that
gobies are having a negative impact on smallmouth reproduction, as higher
populations of round gobies dramatically decrease the number of smallmouth
in the nesting areas.
In addition, tagging studies conducted in cooperation with the Lake
Erie Charter Boat Association and Ohio Sea Grant have confirmed limited
movements or small home ranges of smallmouth bass. Fish that are tagged and
released are likely to be found at a later time in the same location. This
raises concerns about removing smallmouth during the spawning season, and
explains how serious nesting failures are to local populations.
Another potential negative factor impacting smallmouth bass is the
double-breasted cormorant, a bird that dives to feed on small fish including
small bass. Neither gobies nor cormorants were present in Lake Erie just 10
years ago.
No fishing regulation changes are proposed for yellow perch or white
The Division of Wildlife, based on a hearing to be scheduled this
summer, consultation with anglers, and further review of the recent research
information, will finalize the proposals between now and September. Ohio
Wildlife Council action will likely take place in October 2003.

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