For Immediate Release      

Contact: John Cooper, ON 519-873-4613
Marc Gaden, USA 734-662-3209  

Aril 16, 2001


Lake Erie Committee Takes Action To Protect Lake Erie Walleye

NIAGARA FALLS, NY - Fishery managers from Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Ontario have agreed to substantially reduce the maximum harvest level of walleye from Lake Erie in 2001 and not increase it for three years.

This decisive move was taken by the Lake Erie Committee as part of its Coordinated Percid Management Strategy adopted by the Committee at their annual meeting on March 28-29. The strategy is designed to stop the decline in walleye abundance and to continue the rebuilding of yellow perch stocks in Lake Erie.

The Lake Erie Committee, acting on a report from its Walleye Task Group that pointed out the lake-wide abundance of walleye is declining, and may have been overestimated in the past, agreed to set the total allowable catch (TAC) at 3.4 million fish, down 59 percent from the 2000 TAC of 7.7 million fish.  The TAC will not go higher than 3.4 million fish over the next three years and in fact could go lower if walleye spawning success this spring is low.

Even thought the TAC for 2000 had been set at 7.7 million fish, the 2000 lake-wide harvest was only 3.6 million walleye, the lowest level of harvest since 1983 when 3.4 million walleye were caught by anglers and commercial fishers.  In response to concerns that the Committee has been overestimating the abundance of walleye, the Committee’s Walleye Task Group has made substantial revisions to their approach of estimating walleye abundance and setting harvest levels. The Committee also asked two external experts to review the new population estimation method and the experts found the new method to be much better.

The committee also recommended the lake-wide yellow perch TAC be increased by ten percent to 7.1 million pounds from the 2000 TAC of 6.5 million pounds. Although there are indications that yellow perch stocks are improving in the central part of the lake, the results from various agency surveys are mixed and consequently the Committee acted on the recommendation of its Yellow Perch Task Group and chose to increase perch harvest by only a modest amount. Perch harvest in 2000 was just over 6 million pounds.


Coordinated Percid Management Strategy

Walleye and yellow perch are both members of the percid (per-kid’) family of fishes. The Committee has become increasingly concerned about the sixty percent decline in walleye abundance since the late 1980s. Reports from both sport and commercial fishers showed that it was becoming increasingly difficult to catch walleye. Results from fishery agency surveys indicated such factors as fewer older fish in the lake, that harvest was depending more and more on younger fish, that walleye were growing at a slower rate, and walleye stocks were retreating to the western basin of the lake.

The Committee noted that harvest of walleye may not be the sole cause of the decline in abundance, but keeping harvest levels too high could prevent walleye stocks from recovering. In response, the Committee adopted a very conservative Total Allowable Catch limit for walleye in 2001 and agreed not to go above that limit for three years. In addition, the agencies have put in place further restrictions on the number of fish that can be caught during spawning time as well as the rest of the year.

A similar reduction in yellow perch abundance occurred in the early 1990s. Action taken by the Lake Erie Committee to reduce perch harvest through the mid-to-late 1990s appears to be paying off, but the Committee has recommended that they continue to set conservative harvest levels for the immediate future.

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