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Rod, Gun and Game: Lake Erie fishery offers top fishing prospects

BUFFALO — Lake Erie’s incredible water resource provides local residents with the opportunity for outdoor fun, clean water and a great fishery.

We need to protect and conserve this vast resource. For that reason, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission was established, in 1955, at the Convention of Great Lakes Fisheries.

The GLFC has two, major responsibilities: to develop coordinated research, in which data will provide a scientific path to recommend a program that will permit the maximum productivity of fish stocks in common concern, and to formulate a safe program to minimize or eradicate sea lamprey populations, in the Great Lakes.

The commission is comprised of eight people, with four commissioners appointed, by the president, for six-year terms, as well as four people, appointed by the Canadian Privy Council.

The Great Lakes Fisheries Act of 1956 authorized the additional appointment of advisors to the U.S. Section of the Commission, “to examine and be heard, on all proposed recommendations, programs and activities relating to the lake they represent.”

The U.S. section appoints advisors from each lake, from a list provided by the Great Lakes state governors. Consideration is given to interests of state agencies, the commercial fish industry, sport fishermen and the public.

While each Great Lake has a commissioner, advisors represent various interest groups, around the lakes.

New York state is represented by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Don Einhouse is the chairman of the NYS section, with Captain Jerry May’s and Zen Olaw’s representing the sport fishery section. Michael Ptak represents commercial fishery and Jennifer Nalbone represents the public.

Other members of the Lake Erie committee include David Miko (Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission), Bruce Hawkins (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), Jeff Tyson (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) and Todd Kalish (Michigan Department of Natural Resources). The group meets several times, each year, to discuss annual objectives, such as defining the walleye and yellow perch catch levels recommended, for the following year, based on harvest data, from the prior year.

Using an ARGO vessel, berthed in Dunkirk Harbor, the NYS State DEC notes fishery changes, each year, via trawl net sampling and other methods. Each year’s young, forage type, volume and other data is collected and used, to make decisions, based on catch rate and daily fish limits.

The lake’s regulating agencies tend to stay conservative, when establishing harvest rates and their changes, for the lake’s interest groups. Lake Erie is divided into multiple sectors, with New York’s and Pennsylvania’s forming one of the eastern sectors. Our sector is managed by the GLFC and by Ontario, Pennsylvania and New York.

New York state is the most conservative of the Lake Erie groups.
The GLFC established a walleye task group and a yellow perch task group, to manage the game fish and commercial perch and walleye harvest species.

The 2012 lake-wide yellow perch total allowable catch was nearly 14 million pounds. This allocation represented a 7.8 percent increase, from a TAC of 12.650 million pounds, in 2011.

For yellow perch assessment and allocation, Lake Erie is partitioned into four management units. The 2012 allocation was 1.8, 4, 7 and 0.8 million pounds, for MUs 1 – 4, respectively. New York is part of MU4, for perch.

The 2012 lake-wide yellow perch harvest was 10.8 million pounds, or 79 percent of the total 2012 TAC. This was a 12.1 percent increase, from the 2011 harvest of 9.6 million pounds.

Harvest by management units 1 – 4 was 1.7, 3.7, 4.7 and 0.7 million pounds. The portion of TAC harvested was 96.1 percent, 93.2 percent, 66.8 percent and 77.7 percent, in MUs 1 – 4, respectively.

In 2012, Ontario harvested 6.9 million pounds, followed by Ohio, with 3.5 million; Pennsylvania, with 203 thousand pounds; New York, with 106 thousand pounds and Michigan, with 93 thousand pounds.

The lake-wide data shows that the 2011 yellow perch harvest consisted mostly of 4-year-old fish, with a fair contribution of 5-year-old fish, the pooled older cohorts and 3-year-old fish.

The targeted gill net effort in Ontario waters in 2012 increased by 9.5 percent, in MU2; 28.8 percent, in MU3 and 13.2 percent, in MU4. It decreased by 12.7 percent, in MU1, from 2011.

The U.S. angling effort increased, in 2012, in MU1, MU2 and MU4, but decreased in MU3. The U.S. trap net effort in 2012 increased in MU, MU3 and MU4, compared to 2011.

Lake-wide 2012 walleye catch rates increased, for sport fishery and declined, for the commercial fishery. The 2012 sport fishery catch rates were slightly lower than the long-term average, but higher than the long-term average, for the commercial fishery.

Compared to 2011, the 2012 sport catch rates by MU increased by 67 percent, in MU1; 40 percent, in MU2; 24 percent, in MU3 and 46 percent, in MUs 4 and 5. New York is part of MU5, for walleye management.

The commercial gill net catch rates decreased by 36, 17 and 28 percent, in MU1, MU2 and MU3, respectively, and increased by 36 percent, in MU4, during 2012.

Age distribution of walleye in the harvest was dominated by fish 7 years old and older, including the 2003 class. Lake-wide, these walleye comprised 35 percent of the commercial fishery and sport fishery. The 2010 and 2009 classes each represented 19 percent of the total harvest, in 2012. The 2007 class contributed 16 percent of the total lake-wide harvest.

This data proves that Lake Erie is a viable fishery, despite problems with algae issues and oxygen depletion in the western basin, during 2012.

Spring trophy bass fishing will begin on the first Saturday in May. With the relatively early departure of ice this year, yellow perch fishing will be at peak, as soon as boat launch access points are open to the public.

Weekly fish report
Chautauqua ice is no longer safe, although crappie were taken off Mayville and Burtis Bay, just prior to reportedly unsafe ice, last weekend. Small boat access will begin soon, with fishing for crappie in shallows over emerging weedbeds noted, as a seasonal high point, after ice out, for many anglers.

The DEC reported that steelhead anglers have been successful, in small- to medium-sized Lake Erie tributary streams. The late snowmelt and rain will make these streams murky from runoffs, but the fish will remain, as waters are still very chilly.

The DEC recommended that anglers include a variety of baits and lures for spring run steelhead, including egg sacs, egg pattern flies, trout beads, jigs with grubs (fished under a float), minnows, nightcrawlers, stoneflies, streamer patterns and bugger patterns.

Brightly colored baits and flies are a good choice, when fishing in murky waters.

Mike Todd said that some steelhead may be observed pairing up and actively spawning. He suggested anglers avoid these active spawning fish and refrain from disturbing redds (gravel nests), as natural reproduction adds to future steelhead returns.

To find out where to fish for steelhead, visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/60290.html, to obtain information about steelhead fishing tackle and equipment and to view links to WNY steelhead stream maps.

The fish passage project at the Westfield Water Works dam on Chautauqua Creek is finished and this access allows fish to travel upstream an additional 10 miles, along the deep, wooded gorge, with approximately 7 miles of public fishing rights easements, over that stretch of stream.

Visit the NYS DEC website, for a map of this stream section and the public access areas.

NYPA fish pier opens
The public fishing pier, located at the base of the New York Power Authority’s Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, the main generating facility at the Niagara Power Project, opened for the season, earlier this week. The fish-cleaning station will be open, as long as temperatures remain above freezing.

The pier, open daily from dawn – dusk, is admission-free. Parking is available, near the pier and at the top of the hill, next to a roadway that provides access to the pier in the lower Niagara River.

Outdoor calendar
– April 13: NYS archery safety course, Springville Field & Stream. Begins at 7 a.m. Register for home study course at the Concord clerk’s office.

– April 13: Rochester Quality Deer Management Association banquet and auction, Lima Country Club. For more information, call 585-813-2021.

– April 13: Niagara National Wild Turkey Federation banquet, Ransomville Fire Company. For more information, call 791-3151.

– April 13: Niagara County Federation of Conservation Clubs banquet, Suzanne’s Fine Dining, Wheatfield. For more information, call 433-3547.

– April 14: 3D wild animal archery shoot, Hawkeye Bowmen, 13300 Clinton St., Marilla. Kitchen opens for breakfast at 6 a.m. Archery runs from 7 – noon. For more information, call 998-4857.

– April 14: NYS hunter safety course, Elma Conservation Club, 660 Creek Road. For more information, call 681-5690.

– April 14: 3D archery, 30- target shoot, Glen Coe Conservation Society. For more information, call Glenn Gawron at 909-3441.

– April 15 – 17: NYS hunter safety training, Eden-North Collins Rod & Gun, 2404 Sandrock Road, Eden, 6 – 9 p.m. For more information, call 432-3049.

– April 20: Southtowns Ducks Unlimited, sporting clay fun shoot, Hamburg Rod & Gun, Hickox Road, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information, call George Rockey at 674-3075.

– April 20: NYS hunter safety training, town of Hamburg Recreation, 2982 Lakeview Road, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Preregister for home study course, on site, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

– April 20/21: NYS hunter safety training, Bison City Rod & Gun, 511 Ohio St., Buffalo, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. Taught by Simon Manka instructor. Register at first class.

Send outdoor information, for Forrest Fisher’s column in the Springville Journal 10 days in advance, to nugdor@yahoo.com.
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