By RACHEL IOVAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – The Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) has issued its final proposal to impose fishing restrictions on 73 more miles of river, but not without controversy.
The restrictions would require artificial lures only and impose minimum size limits and take-home limits.
There are already 104.9 miles of rivers with restrictions, and the final proposal would bump that up to 177.8 miles on 21 reaches of stream, still nearly 34 miles short of the maximum of 212 miles allowed by law.
The change would affect portions of the AuSable, Black, Fox, Huron, Manistee, Pere Marquette, Pigeon and Paint rivers, Paint Creek and Cooks Run.
For the last two years, DNRE and its Citizens Coldwater Regulations Steering Committee, comprised of sport fishing groups, mulled over which Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula rivers could benefit the most from an extension of the limitations.
“We wanted to select reaches of stream that are long enough to have a long-term effect on trout fisheries,” said Todd Grischke, supervisor of the regulatory affairs unit in the DNRE fisheries division.
According to Grischke, when there are significant lengths of river protected, the likelihood of a long-run benefit increases.
Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Michigan Trout Unlimited, said his members are interested in protecting popular fishing holes that are among the most heavily fished.
Trout Unlimited was one member of the steering committee.
Michigan State University fisheries and wildlife professor Daniel Hayes said that gear restrictions are effective because fish have a better chance of survival when hooked with artificial bait.
“The concern with live bait is that the fish tend to swallow it down deeper — into the throat or stomach. The guess is that an artificial fly doesn’t have flavor. It doesn’t taste like food,” said Hayes.
Burroughs said that with artificial lures, fish tend to get hooked in the mouth by grabbing the lure, rather that sucking the lure into its stomach like it might do with real food.
As rivers were reviewed, DNRE and the steering committee took into account biological factors and suggestions from anglers and the general public.
DNRE received more than 500 e-mails during the review process suggesting more than 1,300 miles of streams for protection.
Burroughs said that Trout Unlimited members were concerned about the Pigeon near Gaylord where there was a major die off in 2008 due to an organic sediment spill from a nearby dam. The muddy water clogged the gills of fish so they couldn’t breathe.
“The trout fishery was nearly wiped out, and the river is not being restocked, so they’re depending on a few fish to repopulate it. The gear restrictions should help with that,” Burroughs said.
A 5.3-mile stretch of the Pigeon in Cheboygan and Otsego counties is proposed for new restrictions.
The AuSable, which begins near Grayling and flows almost 130 miles east to Lake Huron, is also targeted for new restrictions. The 23 additional miles in Crawford and Oscoda counties would make a total of 68.5 miles of protection.
Burroughs said that the few complaints about proposed gear restrictions that he’s heard came from nonmembers of his group.
“Most of our members worry about what’s right for the fish first, and what’s right for the angler later,” Burroughs said, “Generally, opponents of gear restrictions believe that they have a right to fish how they see fit, but hunting and fishing is a privilege, not a right.”
One benefit in areas with gear restrictions is that the fish themselves tend to grow much larger.
Fisheries biologist Hayes said that older and larger fish almost always produce more high-quality eggs, leading to a higher survival rate for young fish and thus a larger population.
However, Hayes acknowledged that the plan could backfire with a higher population sharing the same food supply.
George King, owner of King’s Sport Center Inc. in Baldwin, which caters to anglers along the Pere Marquette River, opposes the proposed restrictions.
“We should be able to fish any way that we want to instead of setting aside fishing for certain people,” King said, “People who want to catch fish to eat or to mount on a wall won’t be able to.”
King said the restrictions would protect some of the best fish spawning areas without research to back the move.
“Gear restrictions have never been proven to help the rivers,” King said
A total of 11. 4 miles of the Pere Marquette River would be protected if the proposed addition of 2.9 miles goes through.
DNRE will hold three public comment sessions in Lansing and consider comments before issuing a final decision.
The meetings will be held on Oct. 7, Nov. 4 and Dec. 9.
Lynn Davis, owner of the AuSable River Store in Oscoda, said that he doesn’t expect to lose money because of the new restrictions because he makes more selling artificial lures than live bait anyway.
“The biggest complaint that I’ve heard from anglers is that they’re not catching any fish. Gear restrictions help with that,” Davis said.