Like the immortal words of Roy Scheider in 1975 movie “Jaws” — “We’re going to need a bigger boat” — the DNR found it needed a bigger space after they glimpsed the monster interest in the proposed 2019 Grand Traverse Bay lake trout restrictions.
The agency changed venues to cast a larger net at the March 6 meeting, after a wave of public opinion met the state agency’s three proposals for shrinking season dates and daily possession limits.
The penalty kicks in with a state over-catch of more than 15 percent, set by the consent decree between the state, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and other tribes.
It is meant to recharge the lake trout fishery, which has become an increasingly important part of recreational sport fishing.
The problem is that we are 32,000 pounds too late.
Charter and recreational anglers with DNR licenses caught an estimated 93,146 pounds of lake trout in the bay in 2018 but were only supposed to catch 77,200 pounds.
Tribal-licensed commercial fishers had a 94,300-pound cap in 2018 and came within 5,000 pounds of that cutoff but didn’t exceed it, according to preliminary figures.
So the question becomes how do you early-catch an over-catch?
DNR Fisheries Biologist Heather Hettinger explained the state’s challenges that keep them from reacting quickly: Biologists work with last season’s data, with estimates coming from mandatory reports from charter captains, and figures from creel catch survey clerks who visit boat launches around the bay.
But more monitors wouldn’t necessarily translate into fast action either, she said, as any changes to fishing regulations require at least 30 days’ notice.
It’s a barbed hook of a problem, but we should grab our waders and try to muck through it anyway.
What can we learn from the tribal success of knowing and staying within limits?
What role should length requirements play given lake trout’s high mortality rate when 41 percent don’t survive catch and release?
The wave of interest in the lake trout plight (and that of the charter boat industry) presents an opportunity to explore proactive, cooperative ideas.
A reasonable approach could become a part of whatever agreement replaces the consent decree between the state and tribes, set to expire in August 2020.
Because reacting a year late becomes problematic over time, and a fishery crash takes a tremendous toll on all involved.
So let’s try to get out in front of it. Fiddle with the tackle, mess with the boat speed, test out some new options, that’s what anglers do. We may not like it, or be successful, we may get downright skunked, but that’s why they call it fishing.
The Grand Traverse Bay Lake Trout Regulations Changes Open House is from 6-8 p.m., March 6 at the East Bay Township Hall.
If you can’t go, submit comments by calling Heather Hettinger at 231-922-6056 or Scott Heintzelman at 231-775-9727, emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Send comments by March 8.