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‘Safer at Home’ order means delays for walleye study

April 18, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill


Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Board approved an emergency rule to extend the zero bag limit on walleye on the Minocqua Chain for another year. The original rule called for a zero bag limit for hook and line anglers in the chain for five years. Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) also allowed no native fishing on the chain for that time. 

Northern District fisheries supervisor Mike Vogelsang brought an emergency rule to the board this year to extend that zero bag limit, and the study of reproduction and recruitment of walleyes in the chain, into a sixth year. The board approved that emergency rule.

The plan was to do netting surveys again this spring on Kawaguesaga and Lake Tomahawk to see if there was any natural reproduction, which has all but ended on the chain. That would be followed by fall stocking of large fingerlings on the chain. 


Background

Vogelsang told the board the goal was to have three adult walleye per acre in Minocqua, Kawaguesaga and two adults per acre on Lake Tomahawk. He provided some historical information about walleye populations. In the 1992 survey, he said, is was estimated there were 5.6 adult walleye per acre in Minocqua, 4.4 in Kawaguesaga and 2.5 in Lake Tomahawk. In 1998, those numbers were 4.6, 5.2 and 2.5, respectively. In 2009, he said, it was found there was a fairly drastic decline. 

No information had been gathered from the chain in the years in between. The 2009 survey showed 2.0 adult walleye per acre in Lake Minocqua, 3.4 in Kawaguesaga and 1.3 in Lake Tomahawk. The 2015 survey, which was near the beginning of this study, showed 1.0 adult walleye per acre in Minocqua, 1.3 in Kawaguesaga and 0.7 in Lake Tomahawk. As walleye populations declined, there was more carrying capacity for other species of fish, and the void left by the dwindling walleye population was filled by bass and crappie, he said.

“Historically speaking, the Minocqua Chain was ticking along really well,” he told the board. When the fall in the population was noticed, he said, biologists reacted by increasing the size limit to 18 inches, and reduced the bag limit to three per day. They also removed the size limit for bass. Those changes, Vogelsang said, seemed to help initially.

In 2015, however, the DNR survey showed the population had halved yet again, so measures needed to be taken, he said. Also, around the year 2005, the chain lost natural reproduction. Due to the high bass and crappie populations, he said, there was limited recruitment in the small fingerlings being stocked into the chain. Coupled with the lack of natural reproduction, it was evident more would need to be done.

From there the Lac du Flambeau tribe and other stakeholders also got involved in taking a closer look at the forces at play in the system. While there is no one “silver bullet,” it is suspected, instead, that a variety of factors working together have caused the decline in walleye populations.


2020 delays

With the governor’s Safer at Home order, all spring surveys have been put on hold for the year. Vogelsang said the fisheries arm of the DNR would basically have to “scrap” this year and take up their surveys again next year. The department had 40-50 surveys planned for this spring that will now not happen. However, the only fisheries work going on at this time is in the hatcheries.

“GLIFWC will be in the same boat, it sounds like,” he said. “They won’t be doing any surveys either, so it looks like we’re all just going to have to scratch this year.” 

Vogelsang had no idea if that would mean another extension on the zero bag limit for walleyes on the Minocqua Chain. He was unsure what bearing that would have on things going forward. 

Recruitment surveys this fall will go forward as planned also, Vogelsang said. Those will give some idea of recruitment, so the entire year will not be a loss, but it is still not going to be the best case scenario.

One thing that will go forward as planned, at least as it sits now, is fall stocking, Vogelsang said. There are no plans to delay that program at this point, he said. He said the stakeholders would all need to sit down at the table and decide the best course of action from here, but that this would likely cause some delay in truly understanding how the walleye populations are doing.

As far as what a possible bag limit may be once the fishery does reopen, Vogelsang was hesitant to say. He said there has been some discussion among the stakeholder groups, but they would all sit down together and make sure they were making a solid recommendation when the time came. He stressed the goal is to have a sustainable fishery, and not set a regulation that would see the walleye populations in the chain crash again in a number of years.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected]


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