When does less add up to more?
In the case of panfish, fewer, larger fish produce significantly more fillet meat than many smaller fish. In fact, just four 8-inch bluegills produce more fillet meat than 25 bluegills measuring 5 inches.
Steve Hewett, fisheries section chief with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says this fact bears consideration as the department moves to introduce new experimental panfish bag limits on 110 lakes statewide. The goal of the changes is to improve the average size of panfish in lakes that are not achieving their potential. The proposed rules follow three years of angler surveys, focus groups, more than 30 public meetings and spring hearings hosted by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress.
“Wisconsin anglers have spoken and while there is little interest in sweeping changes to statewide panfish regulations, there is a desire to take action on lakes where over harvesting has resulted in below average sizes for bluegill and crappie,” Hewett says. “While in the short term, the proposed rules will mean that anglers take home fewer fish, we anticipate that within just a few years, the average size increase should more than make up for any lower number of panfish. We expect anglers will see the same amount of meat, if not more, for the pan and have a more enjoyable fishing experience.”
Underlying the proposed new rules are concerns raised by anglers about diminishing fish size on many lakes. DNR fisheries biologists say panfish experience rapid increases in size up until age six or seven, when they typically measure about 8 inches. Bluegills 9 to 10 inches can be as old as 14 to 16 years.
Heavy harvesting on some lakes currently prevents most panfish from surviving beyond age four, when they measure just 5 inches. At the 5-inch length, it takes about 25 fish to produce a half-pound of fillets.
Hewett says biological sampling shows the lakes that will get new bag limits aren’t suffering from disease or poor fish genetics; instead, heavy harvesting is to blame.
“Evaluations in Wisconsin and Minnesota show that a reduced bag limit will increase the average bluegill size,” Hewett says. “We are proposing three different harvest regulations on the selected lakes to achieve improved performance and over time we’ll be comparing the results to learn which lakes are faring the best.”
The three proposed regulations include:
• 25/10. Under this scenario, anglers could keep a total of 25 panfish, but no more than 10 of any single species.
• 15/five. Under this scenario, anglers could keep a total of 15 panfish, but no more than five of any single species.
• 25/five over 7 inches. This rule would allow a total of 25 panfish, but no more than five of them could be over 7 inches.
The varied regulations will be evaluated in six years to determine whether they are improving panfish size as well as whether anglers are supportive of the changes.
Anglers and others interested in the proposals will have an opportunity to provide comments at a series of three public meetings starting later in August and running into September.
The meetings, which will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., are set for:
• Tuesday, Aug. 26, Minocqua – Minocqua Public Library, 415 Menominee St.
• Wednesday, Sept. 3, Waupaca – Waupaca Public Library, Room B, 106 S. Main St.
• Thursday, Sept. 4, Waukesha – DNR Service Center, Room 151, 141 NW Barstow Road.
More information about the plan, including a draft list of the 110 lakes along with the proposed limits, can be found at dnr.wi.gov by searching for “panfish plan.” In addition to attending the public information meetings, citizens may submit comments to Jon Hansen, DNR fisheries biologist via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to P.O. Box 7921, Madison, WI 53707-7921, att. Panfish Plan.