Three companion bills introduced in the Michigan Legislature last year are moving through committee, and they do not bode well for Michigan’s 13 active Great Lakes commercial fishermen.

Michigan has shoreline on lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie — four of the five Great Lakes. The state’s commercial fishermen use live trap nets and primarily target whitefish. At present they do not lake trout and walleye, and can only take yellow perch in Saginaw Bay, but these species are all designated as commercial species and could be taken if there were a commercial quota. Unfortunately, the trio of bills introduced by state Reps. Jack O'Malley, Pauline Wendzel and Jim Lilly would designate these species as game fish.

According to a story by James Proffitt for Great Lakes Now, Scott Everett, legislative director for the Michigan Commercial Fish Producer’s Association says the commercial fishermen are looking for a small percentage of the state's total allowable catch of the lake trout, walleye and perch.

Amber Mae Petersen, the association’s secretary-treasurer, points out that at present the commercial fishery is focused on whitefish only. “That’s not good,” says Petersen, who also runs a retail seafood business in Muskegon and is a member of one of the state's commercial fishing families. “We need to diversify, and the lake trout population is blossoming.”

Everett notes that commercial operators only seek a small piece of the pie — 10 percent of Michigan’s TAC for lake trout and 20 percent for walleye.

“We’re talking about lake trout that are already being caught and thrown back,” Everett says. “In S.B. 389 we want to establish a process based on quotas, based on sound scientific estimates of fish populations through data gathering and analysis.”

According to Everett the trio of fishing bills restricting commercial fishing have left the House Natural Resources Committee and are now with the House Ways and Means Committee. He expects they’ll move to the house floor for a vote where they could pass, but he hopes friendly votes in the senate will prevent the bills from going to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Everett believes she would defer to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources director, Daniel Eichinger — former director of a sport fishermen’s organization that supports the bills — and limit future commercial fishing.

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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