Michigan and Ohio’s walleye, yellow perch populations stable for 2014

WINDSOR, Ontario – There will be no changes in the Ohio bag limits for Lake Erie walleye or yellow perch for 2014 after the Lake Erie Committee (LEC) of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission reported at its annual meeting that the walleye population is healthier than expected, while schools of yellow perch are in a mild slump. Michigan will not set walleye bag limits until May 1st 2014 for Lake Erie.

The Ohio walleye bag limit for Lake Erie will remain at six fish per day, four during the spring spawning season from March 1-April 30, said Jeff Tyson, head of Lake Erie fisheries management for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The yellow perch daily bag limit will continue to be 30 for the popular pan-sized fish.

The increase in Lake Erie’s walleye population estimate was a surprise, following mediocre spawning seasons. The jump in walleye numbers was the result of the LEC’s new population assessment model for determining how many walleye are swimming in Lake Erie. The new model increased the estimated size of the walleye population to more than 22 million fish.

“The new model was developed by the Lake Erie Percid Management Advisory Group and Michigan State University,” said Tyson. “It used studies that ran the gamut of fisheries assessments, fish harvested, effort by sport and commercial fishermen, age composition of the harvest, as well as a wide range of other data.”

Tyson is comfortable with the new model, even though the last few classes of walleye have been low to average. The bonanza year class of 2003 still makes up an overwhelming 30 percent of the population. They’re now trophy fish, ensuring Lake Erie’s status as the Walleye Capital of the World, but fishermen and fisheries managers have to wonder how long that single class can buoy Lake Erie’s walleye fishery.

The total allowable catch (TAC) for Lake Erie walleye was set at 4.027 million fish, a noticeable jump from a TAC of 3.356 million in 2013. Ohio gets the lion’s share of 2.058 million fish, up from 1.715 million in 2013, with Ontario allocated 1.734 million walleye. Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York get small shares of the TAC.

Ohio does not allow commercial fishing for walleye, and sport anglers have not come close to catching Ohio’s quota of walleye in decades. In Ontario, commercial walleye fishing dominates. Even with reduced effort in recent years, netters have been able to catch the majority of the Ontario quota.

Tyson is hopeful the 2014 walleye hatch will be a good one.

“We’ve seen a pattern of decent hatches associated with fairly severe winters, like we’ve had this year,” Tyson said. “It’s only one factor, though. The success of the hatch also depends on the right precipitation in the spring, gradual warming rates, survival of walleye eggs on the reefs and forage availability for larval and juvenile fish.”