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MADISON - Expanded lake trout harvest opportunities took effect April 15 in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan thanks to an emergency rule approved by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board.

The rule takes into account current lake trout populations including the reestablishment of natural reproduction in some refuge areas and is not expected to affect long-term restoration efforts, said Brad Eggold, Great Lakes district fisheries supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The new five-fish daily bag limit was developed following an extensive angler engagement process that included seven public meetings with total attendance of 500.

"Based on the comments from our stakeholders, we believe increasing the daily bag limit from two to five lake trout will create welcome new recreational opportunities while also addressing concerns about the ratio of predators to prey in the lake," Eggold said.

Other provisions of the new rule:

  • Count the five fish daily lake trout limit as part of the overall five trout and salmon combined daily bag limit. 
  • Maintain closure of refuges, which are supporting some natural reproduction. 
  • Offer a continuous open season in 2017. 
  • Maintain the commitment to lake-wide lake trout restoration and promotion of a diverse salmon and trout fishery through continued assessment of lake trout restoration goals and management actions.  

"To ensure the new rule supports long-term restoration goals for lake trout, DNR intends to monitor the harvest throughout the duration of the emergency rule and develop a permanent rule," Eggold said.

During 2016, the Lake Michigan lake trout harvest totaled 19,137 fish, down 46 percent from 35,715 in 2015. The lake trout sport harvest has remained at or below levels considered necessary for recovery of the species since 1998.

While pursuit of lake trout may not be the primary motivator for anglers who head out with their own equipment or hire charters on Lake Michigan, the opportunity to catch more lake trout including the possibility of a trophy fish is likely to generate additional interest in the prized fishery. Each year, Wisconsin's Great Lakes fishing opportunities draw some 178,000 anglers (as measured by the sale of the Great Lakes Salmon and Trout stamp) who contribute $114.3 million to the economy, according to the American Sportfishing Association.

DNR will hold a combined public hearing on the emergency rule and gather additional information for a permanent rule at a public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m., June 22, in the ballroom at UW-Milwaukee's School of Freshwater Sciences, 600 E. Greenfield Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53204.

Written comments can be sent to DNRLAKEMICHIGANPLAN@wisconsin.gov or mailed to: Brad Eggold, Department of Natural Resources, Great Lakes Water Institute, 600 E. Greenfield Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53204.

The deadline for comments is July 7, 2017. 

The initial emergency rule will run 150 days with two expected 60 day extensions for a total of 270 days. For 2017, the new bag limit will therefore be in effect until December 31, 2017. The department intends to seek a permanent rule that would take effect as soon as possible upon expiration of the emergency rule extensions.

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