Increased native fishing makes DNR nervous

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Points North
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Increased native fishing makes DNR nervous

Postby Points North » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:30 am

April 9, 2016
By Dan Roblee ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - Last summer, Lake Superior sport fishers reported seeing more Native American commercial fishing tugs than normal along the Keweenaw coastline, mainly from non-Michigan tribes. They worried the increased fishing would deplete lake trout populations.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources noticed the same activity, Fisheries Biologist George Madison said at a March 31 fisheries update, and while the DNR isn't in panic mode, it is a bit nervous about the trout.

"Indian netting is a concern if they're taking the balance of fish out there," said Madison. "A lot of what we have is allegations, though. We don't have the data."
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Dan Roblee/Daily Mining Gazette file photo

Getting harvest data has been difficult, said Dave Caroffino of the DNR's Tribal Coordination Unit in Charlevoix. Under the federal Treaty of 1842, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota tribes are guaranteed the right to fish Lake Superior. Instead of answering to the states, tribes set limits through the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, a Native organization that has negotiated limits with Wisconsin and Minnesota in the past, but never Michigan.

Caroffino said he believed the increased fishing from Bad River and Red Lake registered boats - both Wisconsin tribes - was likely related to new agreed-upon regulations decreasing legal harvests in Wisconsin waters.

Bill Mattes, Great Lakes section leader for GLIFWC, said that's one of many misconceptions about the situation. While there was increased fishing in the Keweenaw region last summer, it's mainly due to fishers who had long been licensed for Michigan waters putting in more time on the water due to economic conditions, he said.

"The price of fish is up, so guys are fishing," Mattes said. "We also have fishermen who spend part of the year in the construction business, so with construction down, they fished."

This spring, he said, fish prices are down, and he knows of at least two boats delaying their season and hoping prices improve.

Mattes said last year's harvest data is still being compiled - one reason it hasn't been shared - but GLIFWC does participate in Lake Superior-wide fish stock assessments with both state and Canadian authorities every three years.

Generally, he said, trout populations across the lake peaked in 2006 after recovering from massive sea-lamprey parasitism. They've decreased since, he said, but not beyond normal biological fluctuations. There's a bit of a concern about near-shore populations, he says, though he attributes that more to environmental pollution, lamprey and other natural issues than to fishing.

There's always been some conflict between sporting anglers and commercial fishers, he said, but it's important to remember the professionals aren't just providing for themselves.

"Lake Superior is held in common for all people in Michigan, and not everyone can get on the lake and catch a fish," he said. "That's who our commercial fishermen are providing for. For everyone who can't get out on the lake."

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