2013-04-11 / Outdoors

Fish Report

Well, we are still waiting for some warm rains and warm nights to get rid of the snow. Of course, as I have been saying, if things keep going the way they have been we will have a new Memorial Day activity. We will be able to have snowball fights and build snowmen. Hopefully we will have to find something else to do by the Fourth of July.

One of the duties a conservation officer had to do back in the “good old days” was ride on the commercial fish boats. Back when I started out 90 percent of the commercial fish boats were gill net tugs. Back then too there were a lot of gill net fishermen and seeing part of my area of responsibility included Saginaw Bay it made for a lot of trips out on the tugs.

It is another one of those things that has really changed. This came about with the fact the state decided to do away with gill net fishing and those that did stay in the gill net business were now Indian fishermen.

The other day I was reading the commercial fish report put out by the DNR and this does not include Indian fishing. But there sure is a difference from back when I was growing up and first started working for the state. The following is the report.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Fisheries Division recently released data from its 2012 state-licensed commercial fishing season. An often overlooked component of Michigan’s worldclass fisheries resources, statelicensed commercial fisheries in 2012 caught 3,762,000 pounds of fish with a dockside value of $4,087,000 prior to processing, marketing and retail sale.

“Commercial fishing in the Great Lakes is one of the oldest uses of the lakes and brings rich fisheries resources in the form of protein to the public’s dinner tables,” said Tom Goniea, DNR commercial fisheries biologist. “The total store value of the state-licensed fishery is worth nearly $20 million to Michigan’s economy and supports an estimated 300 fishing and fishing related jobs.”

Currently, Michigan’s statelicensed commercial fishery consists of 50 licenses authorized to fish throughout the Great Lakes. It is important to note this fishery is non-tribal; data from tribal commercial efforts will not be available until late summer of 2013. Of the 50 authorized licenses, 32 were actively fished in 2012 by 22 state-licensed commercial fishing businesses. Twelve businesses operate in Lake Huron, five in Lake Michigan, three in Lake Superior, and two in Lake Erie.

The majority of state-licensed commercially harvested fish are caught by trap nets. These nets allow fish to be captured alive, thus ensuring the freshest-quality product gets to market and allows nontarget and undersize fish (those not big enough to be legally kept for commercial sale) to be released back to the lake.

Michigan’s commercial fishery harvests a variety of fish species and, while catch varies greatly by fishing location, the most lucrative quarry is the lake whitefish. In 2012, lake whitefish made up 53 percent of the catch and were worth $3.2 million dockside to fishermen, 77 percent of the fishing industry’s gross dockside value. This harvest had an estimated retail value of $16 million. In addition to whitefish, other important commercial fishery species include catfish, carp, yellow perch, sheepshead and quillback.

A full breakdown of the harvest and dockside value of the 2012 state-licensed commercial fishery, as well as the harvest and value breakdown for each of the individual lakes, is available online; visit www.michigan.gov/fishing and then click on Managing Michigan’s Fisheries.

I can recall reading articles a number of years back that stated with all the changes and new regulations of the commercial fish industry that the day will come that a large part of the fish we eat will be farm raised fish. If you keep track at all of everything that is going on by both the states and the federal government that day may not be far away.

It is a far cry from when I was growing up when dad would want some fish for dinner so he would go down to the docks at the harbor and meet a fishing tug when they docked to buy some fish. This is the way it was done back then and from what I hear there are not even any fishing boats going out of a lot of these little harbors anymore.

I can recall being up in one of the highest places you could be at the Ontonagon paper mill watching gill net tugs coming into the harbor on a bad stormy day. You could see this tug make its way up over the top of a wave on Lake Superior and then it would go completely out of sight as it went down the other side of the wave. Then you would see it once again chugging its way up over another wave trying to make the harbor. I thought even back then this was not one of those careers I was going to try to work at.

Of course the fact that every once in a while the report of one of these tugs losing a crew member would sweep through our little town. The people that made their livelihood this way were a tough lot and worked hard for what they made.

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