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DNR considers bass regulation changes

Bill Parker
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Lansing - Imagine bass fishing, legally, in April on any body of water in the state. How about being able to fish for bass through the ice?
Either one, or both, of these scenarios could become reality in the not-too-distant future.
After years of attempts by anglers to get the DNR Fisheries Division to consider changes to the bass fishing regulations, the process has finally been set in motion.
The DNR last week released a 53-page report detailing scientific literature, bass biology, and bass regulations across North America. Also included in the report are seven options dealing with potential bass fishing regulation changes that could be implemented in Michigan.
The biggest change anglers have been pursuing is to open a catch-and-release season before the regular season opens on the Saturday before Memorial Day. At issue is if such a move would adversely affect bass populations, which are spawning at that time in many areas of the state. The DNR now wants the public to help it decide what is the acceptable level of risk.
The Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass Regulations Committee (SALBRC), which created the paper, has narrowed the options down to four which it believes are in the neighborhood of the acceptable levels of risk, according to the DNR's Lake Erie Basin coordinator Kurt Newman, a co-chairman of the SALBRC.
The DNR has scheduled a June 3 meeting with constituent groups to discuss the report and start the process of gathering public comment. Following that meeting, the department will set up a series of public meetings to gather input from anglers across the state.
Newman said that after compiling public input this summer, it would be at least 2006 before any changes could be implemented by the DNR. He also wants to assure anglers that, contrary to popular rumors, the DNR has not taken a position on the issue.
"Some of the mail I've been receiving and the stuff I've been seeing on web sites keeps saying that we (DNR) already have a predisposed position, and that's simply not true," Newman said. "We're going to the public to hear from them what they feel is an acceptable level of risk. We feel it's important to go to the public and get their input."
The options SALBRC believes have "acceptable levels of risk" are:
Option 3: Status quo - Closed from Jan. 1 until the Saturday preceding Memorial Day, then possession limits through Dec. 31;
Option 4: Possession limits from Jan. 1 through March 15; Closed March 16 until the last Saturday in April in the Lower Peninsula and until May 15 in the Upper Peninsula; Catch and immediate release from the last Saturday in April in the Lower and from May 15 in the Upper until the third Saturday in June; Possession limits from the third Saturday in June through Dec. 31;
Option 5: Catch and immediate release from Jan. 1 through March 15: Closed March 16 until the last Saturday in April in the Lower Peninsula and May 15 in the Upper; Catch and immediate release from the last Saturday in April in the Lower Peninsula and from May 15 in the Upper Peninsula until the third Saturday in June; Possession limits from the third Saturday in June through Dec. 31.
Option 6: Closed Jan. 1 until the last Saturday in April; Catch and immediate release from the last Saturday in April in the Lower Peninsula and May 15 in the Upper Peninsula until the third Saturday in June; Possession limits from the third Saturday in June until Dec. 31.
Those options have raised concern from some sport anglers, especially those who compete in tournaments.
"We're certainly glad that the DNR has finally reviewed the bass regulations," said Ron Spitler, conservation director for the Michigan BASS Federation and a retired DNR fisheries biologist. "The problem with the proposal is that they're willing to give us something, in a catch-and-release season in the spring, but they're going to take away three weeks of the catch-and-keep (possession) season. We're not opposed to a little give and take, it's just not necessary to delay the start of the possession season. They left out one important option and that's leaving the possession season as it is."

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