The Reality of Waiting?


One of Mr. Dan Egan’s articles mentions a whitefish comeback? Commercial fishing is about money, fish must be caught in the greatest possible numbers in the shortest amount of time. Conservation and restoration is about the opposite. Supposed commercial fishing theory, is one of removing only surplus fish, though the WDNR never states at what level the perch population has a surplus for sport and commercial fishermen, maybe that’s part of the problem. While surplus fish may exist at 50+ million level, at less then 2 million remaining, that screams survival or extinction not surplus
We’ll look at Green Bay perch as a historical example, since that data and documentation is more plentiful. Unlike Mr. Egan, I’ve decided to provide the numbers that support my contention that nets have and do in fact cause harm to fisheries, you be the judge.
The first thing I notice about the above chart is that the commercial limits are behind the curve, after a recovery in 1984, the perch population was constantly declining faster then the WDNR lowered commercial limits to protect them, until the bottom in 2002. Michigan even stocked perch in Green Bay 1989, 1994, 1995, 2001, 2002.
For years, perch year-classes have shown failure at producing more then one good year-class at a time. 1993 (in orange, below) finds 13 million perch of breeding size, were only able to produce 536,000 perch, surviving to 2 years of age, just a 4% replacement rate.
With the above graph, you see how in 2006 the commercial need for ‘here and now’, outweighed the need for a larger, more stable fishery for the public future. Please note, the 90,000-lb. harvest with a 60,000-lb. limit (below). Neat trick indeed, I believe it goes like this.......


In 2005, 6+ million perch show up (2003 year class in yellow), a number not seen in 12 years, the WDNR quickly raise perch limits in Dec.2005, the middle of the commercial season. With the 40,000 lbs. bonus from 2005 plus the new 60,000 lbs. for 2006, the nets are set to start harvesting. The nets swoop in to quickly harvest the 2003 year class. These large breeding females aren't saved to produce 15 times as many eggs like the 1998 year class (in green) and it shows. When asked in June 2011 for the latest perch numbers, the WDNR replied there were no perch numbers available yet for 2009-2011 . I suspect the numbers are down, that good numbers come out quickly to benefit commercials, while bad numbers are hidden to protect WDNR incompetence and commercial avarice from pubic outcry. Starting in 2005, commercial limits went up 500% while sport limits rose only 50%, to date. Since 2006, while commercial harvest has remained steady, sport harvest has declined 68%. Why was the 98 year class protected while the 2003 year class heavily exploited?
In 2007 the WDNR proved that they serve the commercial fisher, not the public, not conservation, not the sportsmen. They did it when they raised the perch quota to 100,000 lbs. They raised the quota despite the fact that that perch numbers were declining back to record lows and commercials could only catch ~60,000 lbs. The WDNR will not have to do anymore ‘neat tricks’ in the future, no public hearings, no irate sportsmen complaining of damage. Nope, whenever the perch show up, the netters will be waiting with their surplus quota. It appears that once, ‘surplus fish’, meant fish not needed for the continued health or restoration of a fishery, now ‘surplus’ has been changed by the WDNR to one of, any future perch from an expanding fishery needed to fill current/future commercial quotas. Just how does the surviving 3.6% of the perch, repopulate Green Bay while nets are waiting for the next strong(er) year class of perch, will it take another 12 years to arrive? Why do commercials get first crack at them and not the sportsmen or conservationists?
Per WDNR “Furthermore, year-class failures have not been observed in more than two consecutive years during 1994-2009.” That references the other member of the perch family in Green Bay, the Walleye. For perch, it’s the opposite, perch year-class failures are the norm and back to back increases are the rarity. The difference isn’t in fish, but in management, walleyes can’t be netted by the tens of tons, perch have been, still are and can be.
Also “Managing single-species fisheries with an explicitly conservative, risk-averse approach should be a first step toward achieving sustainable marine fisheries. The precautionary approach should apply. A moderate level of exploitation might be a better goal for fisheries than full exploitation, because fishing at levels believed to provide the maximum long-term yield tends to lead to over-exploitation.
While the WDNR may give lip service to that philosophy, it's obvious they fail to practice it with the yellow perch. To increase limits to allow nets to decimate the 2003 year class was not cautionary, conservative management, but instead premeditated over exploitation of not only that year class but the untold millions of perch that they might have produced. Perch that Green Bay and the public so desperately needed and still needs.
As you can see, waiting for a commercial fishery to return, doesn't work. Closing it, like the Walleye, does.

Click here to see the small amount of money that the Green Bay perch were sacrificed for. Remember that’s one and two thirds of a years worth of perch taken in 2006. Check out the amount of net need to catch the perch, in just two years the 2003 year class of perch and every other species of fish and wildlife using those waters, were subjected to 3.6 million ft of net, or 682 miles of perch nets. Enough perch nets to string across Wisconsin from Milwaukee to Duluth and back again. From 2006-2007, enough net was set in just grid 1001 (Green Bay) to encircle that entire grid, five and a half times. And remember that's just the reported usage for nets that caught perch. Notice how net usage goes up and harvest goes down as perch get scarcer, like in 2007? It took 75% more net to harvest 30% fewer perch then in 2006. How many walleyes, pike, musky, etc, were killed in the millions of feet perch net?