Lake Erie Committee Announces Walleye and Yellow Perch Harvest Levels for 2016

Maintaining a healthy Lake Erie walleye and yellow perch fishery is the responsibility of fishery scientists and managers from many states and nations that meet each year to discuss the monitoring data behind the delicate balance of understanding a healthy fishery. Forrest Fisher Photo

The binational Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fish Commission (GLFC), comprising fishery managers from Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario, and Pennsylvania, met in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and recommended a total allowable catch (TAC) of 4.937 million walleye and 9.208 million pounds of yellow perch for 2016 (Walleye are allocated by number of fish; yellow perch are allocated in pounds).  These TAC recommendations are an allowable combination harvest of recreational sport fishing and commercial fishing, for 2016 the numbers represent an increase in allowable catch for walleye from 4.114 million fish last year and a decrease in yellow perch from 10.528 million fish.

The Lake Erie Committee’s TAC recommendations are reflective of the status of Lake Erie’s fish populations and take into account the goal of consistent harvest from year to year. The individual provincial and state governments adhere to and implement the TAC recommendations in accordance with their respective regulations and management objectives.

TAC recommendations are produced after extensive lakewide biological assessments, analysis, discussions, and consultations with stakeholders. A central mechanism to discuss walleye and yellow perch management in Lake Erie is called the Lake Erie Percid Management Advisory Group, or LEPMAG. Through this process, stakeholder input directly informs the development of harvest strategies.

A healthy fishery affects the recreational economy and millions of people that utilize the resource.

WALLEYE

The Lake Erie Committee today recommended a 2016 walleye TAC of 4.937 million fish, a 20% increase from the 2015 TAC of 4.114 million fish. The TAC recommendation for 2016 reflects a stable adult population and a moderate to strong hatch in 2014. The 2011, 2010, 2007, and the 2003 year classes continue to contribute to the stability of the walleye fishery and allow for the increase in TAC from last year.

Each Lake Erie jurisdiction is responsible for implementing its portion of the TAC. The Province of Ontario and the States of Ohio and Michigan share the TAC based on a formula of walleye habitat within each jurisdiction in the western and central basins of the lake. Under a 2016 TAC of 4.937 million fish, Ohio will be allocated 2.523 million fish, Ontario 2.126 million fish, and Michigan 0.288 million fish. Most of the walleye harvest comes from the western portion of Lake Erie and, as such, jurisdictions in the eastern end of the lake are outside the TAC area. Harvest limits in the eastern basin are established separately by Ontario, Pennsylvania, and New York and remain in accordance with lake-wide conditions and objectives.

The walleye TAC recommendations are consistent with the Lake Erie Walleye Management Plan, which sets fishery goals and objectives for walleye. The plan is the result of extensive stakeholder and manager input through LEPMAG. In addition, the Walleye Task Group, comprising scientists and field biologists from all Lake Erie jurisdictions, provides scientific advice to the Lake Erie Committee. The committee also takes into account recommendations from LEPMAG and is informed by a model, developed in conjunction with stakeholders and Michigan State University.

YELLOW PERCH

The Lake Erie Committee remains strongly interested in maintaining stability in harvest while ensuring yellow perch sustainability. Consistent with that primary objective, the Lake Erie Committee recommended a 2016 TAC of 9.208 million pounds of yellow perch, a decrease from last year’s allocation of 10.528 million pounds. The decrease in the yellow perch TAC reflects declining abundance in the central eastern basins, coupled with increasing abundance in the western basin. Like the walleye TAC recommendation, the proposed yellow perch TAC is the result of deliberations among the jurisdictions and with stakeholders through the LEPMAG process.

The five jurisdictions on the lake share Lake Erie’s yellow perch established under an area-based formula. Under the 2016 TAC recommendation, Ontario will receive 4.385 million pounds, Ohio 3.876 million pounds, Michigan 0.209 million pounds, New York 0.119 million pounds, and Pennsylvania 0.620 million pounds.

The Lake Erie Committee noted that the lake-wide yellow perch fishery is performing at long-term trend levels and, thus, the overall TAC reflects a relatively small decrease. The performance, however, is not uniform throughout the lake. In some areas, called “management units,” the change in yellow perch abundance (and, hence, allowable harvest) is significantly different in 2016 compared to 2015. The Lake Erie Committee has strived to maintain harvest stability while still responding to specific trends in each management unit. The committee discussed the need to evaluate methods, including population modeling and assessment, for better understanding percid recruitment in the central basin.

THE LAKE ERIE PERCID MANAGEMENT ADVISORY GROUP (LEPMAG)

The Lake Erie Percid Management Advisory Group was first convened in 2010 and serves as the primary method to incorporate stakeholder needs and objectives into the Lake Erie yellow perch and walleye decision-making process. LEPMAG consists of senior representatives from all provincial and state jurisdictions on the lake, recreational fishers, commercial fishers, and other interested organizations. Through LEPMAG, fishery managers and stakeholders work together to identify the harvest policies for Lake Erie percids that meet the needs of all stakeholders while maintaining stability in the percid fishery. Michigan State University’s Quantitative Fisheries Center facilitates the LEPMAG process. Walleye are now being managed under the Walleye Management Plan, which was developed through LEPMAG and formally adopted by the Lake Erie Committee in December, 2015. LEPMAG members are in the process of developing population objectives and harvest strategies for yellow perch in Lake Erie. The objectives and harvest strategies are expected to be completed in the coming years.

THE LAKE ERIE COMMITTEE AND TACs

The Lake Erie Committee comprises fishery managers from Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario and Pennsylvania. The committee’s work is facilitated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a Canadian and U.S. agency on the Great Lakes. Each year the committee recommends a TAC for walleye and yellow perch. The TAC represents the number or weight of fish recommended to be caught by sport and commercial fishers without putting the fisheries at risk. The individual agencies implement the recommended total allowable catch.