State proposes limits on walleye, smallmouth bass

CLEVELAND (AP) - The state wants to limit walleye and smallmouth bass fishing in Lake Erie to build up populations in response to predators and curtailed spawning.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife plans to hold public hearings on the proposals, which it hopes to have in place by March 1. The Ohio Wildlife Council, which reviews regulations proposed by the agency, expects to vote on the restrictions by October.
Walleye is Lake Erie's most popular game fish.
The daily limit for keeping walleye would be reduced from four to three during March and April. The limit for other times would remain unchanged at six.
The restrictions will help protect walleye during the spawning season, said Roger Knight, Lake Erie program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The state also wants to impose a year-round 15-inch minimum size requirement for walleye. The walleye proposals are designed to protect the relatively small number of walleye hatched in recent years.
Currently, there is no minimum length for keeping walleye.
Last year fishermen caught about 700,000 walleye on the Ohio waters of Lake Erie, down from the 2001 catch of 1.2 million.
A proposed closed season in May and June for smallmouth bass is an attempt to protect the population while it lays eggs and fights gobies that attack the eggs. Fishermen could catch smallmouth bass but not keep them, the state said.
Overfishing smallmouth bass reduces the number of males protecting egg nests against feasting gobies.
The smallmouth bass also must battle the double-breasted cormorant. The closed season would leave greater numbers of fish to fend off the birds.
The gobies arrived in Lake Erie over the past few years in the ballast of ocean-going ships. Cormorants, starting out from the Lake Erie's Chicken Islands in Canada, have sharply increased in numbers over the past 20 years.

The proposals are part of a larger effort by the Lake Erie Commission to reduce fish quotas taken by 40 percent to 60 percent. The commission includes Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York.

In the Sandusky area, Pete Scheid of Captain Hook Fishing said he doubted the proposal would affect Ohio's sports fishing industry.
Tom Mayher of Cleveland, Ohio director of the Great Lakes Sportfishing Council, said the walleye restrictions don't go far enough. Most other jurisdictions around Lake Erie ban springtime walleye fishing, he said.
Ontario commercial fishermen fear the restrictions will harm their trade.
"We're barely surviving on the walleye we're now allowed to catch," said Rob Graham, executive director of the Ontario Commercial Fisheries Association.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)