TRAVERSE CITY — Over-catch and high mortality rates prompted the Department of Natural Resources to limit lake trout fishing in Grand Traverse Bay for state-licensed anglers.
Natural Resources Commission members set a one-fish-per-day limit at their recent meeting, effective immediately, DNR spokesman Ed Golder said. The limit will be in place through Sept. 30, he said — the typical end of the lake trout fishing season for Lake Michigan north of Arcadia, fishing regulations show.
Attendees at a March 6 open house to discuss the catch reduction identified the limit as their preferred option, or one they could at least live with, DNR Fisheries Biologist Heather Hettinger said.
"Obviously it stinks, and you're not going to make everybody happy and unfortunately that's just kind of the situation, but we wanted people to get to a kind of we'll-live-with situation," she said.
Grand Traverse Bay anglers with state licenses caught an estimated 93,146 pounds of lake trout in 2018, well above the 77,200 pounds of total allowable catch. That limit stems from a consent decree between the state, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and four other Michigan tribes.
High mortality rates for caught-and-released lake trout — an estimated 41 percent — factored into that estimated catch.
A one-a-day lake trout limit should reduce state-licensed anglers' take to an estimated 56,000 pounds out of Grand Traverse Bay, Hettinger said. That might seem like leaving behind a lot of fish, but a big cushion is important because several factors can change — the number of people fishing the bay throughout the season, for example.
The limit will revert to the previous two-fish cap for the 2020 season, unless anglers overshoot the total allowable catch again, Hettinger said.
Lake trout are a native predator species that prefer cold, deep water but venture closer to shore in spring and fall, according to the DNR. They typically weigh 9-10 pounds but can grow considerably larger — the state record is 61 pounds, 8 ounces.
Invasive species and too much commercial harvest reduced lake trout numbers from 1935 to 1965, with chemical contamination possibly playing a role in later years, according to the DNR. Their population is recovering thanks to efforts to control sea lamprey and better manage lake trout fisheries.
Lake trout are fun to catch and delicious to eat, Hettinger said. But anglers need to realize that the species doesn't handle being caught and released very well, she said.
"If people are going to go out and target lake trout, we need folks to go out, catch a fish and switch to something else or call it a day," she said.
Charter boat captain Cameron Garst said the rules possibly could affect his business, but that remains to be seen. People who hire fishing charters are looking for an experience and don't do it to fill their freezers with fish, he said.
"It'd be way cheaper for them to go to Burritt's and buy the fish," he said.
Garst attended the March 6 workshop and preferred a one-fish limit to other proposals, he said. One would have pushed back the lake trout season in the bay to a July 1 start, leaving him with little to target for the first half of the summer, he said.
People now are much more knowledgeable about total allowable catches and DNR actions relating to them, Garst said. He wishes there had been more publicity given to the way fish deaths caused by catch-and-release are counted against that total, he said. That plus some outreach to other charter captains might have curbed the practice, he said.
Garst said changing the bag limit but not the season gives everyone a chance to fish.
"I would prefer two fish or three fish per license, but it is what it is. We'll just have to go with it," he said.