Following a late October meeting that drew some 65 citizens concerned about Lake Michigan’s declining yellow perch population, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will form a team to investigate options for stocking and habitat improvement to restore near-shore yellow perch fisheries in the river estuaries and harbors in Milwaukee and possibly other Wisconsin Lake Michigan ports.
Ron Bruch, DNR fisheries chief, said the team will create a plan that outlines steps needed to accomplish key tasks such as funding, collaboration with other state and federal agencies, identification of the best yellow perch strains for stocking, potential rearing locations, stocking numbers and plans for evaluation of the effort. The group, composed of fisheries team members and leaders from collaborating institutions and agencies, is expected to begin meeting in January 2015.
“At our October meeting and in previous forums, anglers and interested citizens have urged fisheries managers to restore a perch fishery that is accessible to near-shore anglers,” Bruch said. “We’ve listened carefully and after reviewing research from DNR scientists as well as collaborators from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences, the Great Lakes National Program Office and Great Lakes Fishery Commission, we believe it may be feasible to restore a local yellow perch fishery.”
Brad Eggold, Lake Michigan fisheries supervisor, said the effort will not overcome the impact of aquatic invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels in the lake as a whole, but instead will aim to provide better opportunities for urban anglers in key Lake Michigan harbors and estuaries. The invasive mussels have reduced the food available for young perch in the open lake, but there is hope that some strains of perch may be able to reproduce in the protected estuary areas where more food may be available.
“We’ve seen significant support for attempts to re-establish a yellow perch fishery in high priority areas and we intend to work with our team of stakeholders and collaborators to develop a viable strategy to achieve this,” Eggold said. “As part of our overall strategy to maintain healthy native fish populations, we believe perch play an important role by providing a delicious catch for anglers of all ages and experience levels.”
Highlights of the October 23 meeting, held at the School of Freshwater Sciences, included a discussion of changes in the food web and an overview of yellow perch populations throughout the lake. A panel of experts and citizens also jointly explored bottlenecks in perch reproduction and the feasibility of public-private partnerships for habitat improvements and fish rearing efforts.
For a summary of the meeting including video of the presentations, visit dnr.wi.gov and search for “Lake Michigan yellow perch meeting.”