Why Are Smaller Walleyes Mainly Being Caught This Year With A Lack of Large Females?
I am the Lake Erie Unit Manager for DNR-Fisheries. The answer to your question is both simple and complicated.
The simple answer to where have all the big females gone is that they are just that, gone, as they have died out from old age. The 2003 walleye year class was the largest on record since 1988, and the only one in 17 years to be above the long-term average, with the exception of the 2015 year class (see the first graph in the attachment I sent). That amazing 2003 year class carried the walleye fishery for over a decade and resulted in many beautiful, long lived, large females. But there just aren’t many of them left. There were many years of extremely poor recruitment in the 2000s and we are seeing the results of that now, with the lack of larger (older) fish. Those 15" range fish you are catching now though are a very good sign for the future. The 2014 year class was close to the long-term average and the 2015 year class was a banner year and the 3rd highest going back to 1988. That is why you are catching so many of that size, they are those most recent year classes that are young and still small. Given a few years they will grow larger and contribute more big fish to the fishery. Without those two years classes, fishing would be pretty grim. These two year classes should help sustain the fishery for quite a while as the 2003 year class did.
The complicated part of the answer is that walleye recruitment is highly variable and impacted by a variety of factors over which we have no control. Lake Erie is an extremely productive system, especially in the Western basin and we are lucky to have self-sustaining populations. Although difficult, anglers need to adjust their expectations of numbers and sizes and be patient as we wait for good year classes interspersed with the poor year classes to sustain our fishery.
We are seeing a similar situation with yellow perch, but which recruit much faster to the fishery. We had 4 years in a row of good yellow perch year classes and 2016 was a record year by far for yellow perch harvest in Michigan waters of Lake Erie.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.
Lake Erie Unit Manager for DNR-Fisheries
Asian Carp Control Takes Shape on the Great Lakes
Over the past four months, an unprecedented level of attention has been directed at preventing the entry of the Asian carp into the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River basin. In the metropolitan Chicago area, century-old canals and locks connect the two water systems in a way that Mother Nature never intended.
Thanks to intense public pressure from Great Lakes stakeholders, the federal government has provided the funding and authority to federal agencies to prevent the carp’s entry into Lake Michigan. A comprehensive action plan, the Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework, was established. The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (Army Corps of Engineers; US EPA; US Fish & Wildlife Service; Coast Guard; Illinois DNR) will oversee the Implementation of its short-term and long-term control measures. The website, WWW.ASIANCARP.ORG, provides detailed information about the control plan and current news.
Experts have warned for years of the devastating impact the colonization of the Asian carp would have on the Great Lakes ecology. The epicenter of this threat is the 7 Billion Dollar sportfishing industry on the Great Lakes. All fish species and aquatic habitats would be harmed including coldwater habitat, trout and salmon.
Despite this threat and the economic harm it would have in all the Great Lakes, local economic interests in the Chicago area (tour boat/commercial barge operators; sewer/water authorities) have resisted the proposed control measures. Controversy surrounds just how close the carp is to escaping into Lake Michigan. eDNA sampling of the Chicago canals has revealed evidence of the carp above the electrical barriers and at the edge of Lake Michigan, yet no actual fish have been found despite intense efforts to catch them.
Michigan stakeholders (Attorney General Cox; Governor Granholm; Michigan’s U.S. Congressional delegation; MDNRE) have played a significant role in pressing for strong control measures and insisting on a ‘zero tolerance’ goal.
Metro West Steelheaders Club has been a big part of the effort as well. Letter-writing campaigns at Club meetings, the Ultimate Fishing Show, and together with MUCC at Outdoorama have generated over 5,000 letters delivered to U. S. Congress and President Obama demanding strong action. Attorney General Cox spoke at the Club meeting in January about legal action taken to force closure of the Chicago locks. Club members attended the public meeting held by federal officials in Ypsilanti last month, and made public comments. The Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisherman’s Association has picked up Metro West’s letter-writing campaign and is providing it to other chapters for their use.
To keep abreast of these issues as they pertain to protecting the Great Lakes fisheries that our sport depends on, visit WWW.ASIANCARP.ORG for news releases and other information from the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee. Send in your comments/questions to the federal email box: CARPCOMMENTS@GMAIL.COM.
I will do my best to keep you informed and to let you know how you can help insist on the strongest effort possible to keep these fish out of the Great Lakes.
Dan Keifer – MWS Conservation Committee Chair