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Hook & Hunting

Hook & Hunting: New Consent Decree Has Anglers, Charter Boat Captains ‘Scared for the Future’ of Fishing

Some changes to fishing could be on the way, and it may impact fishing in the Great Lakes in Northern Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced December 2022 a proposed update to the state’s Consent Decree. The Consent Decree is an agreement between local tribes and the DNR that sets parameters on when and where tribal and commercial fishing can and can not operate. It also says what gear tribes can use.

The DNR says the goal of the proposed Consent Decree is to solve the shrinking population of White Fish and Salmon in the Great Lakes. However, local anglers and charter boat captains say the new decree would do the opposite. They say this is due to a piece in the decree that allows tribes to expand their use of gill nets into the Great Lakes. They say that change could have a huge impact not just with the fish populations in the Great Lakes, but many of the rivers throughout Northern Michigan.

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So far, four tribal governments, the state government and the federal government reached an agreement on the proposed Consent Decree.

Local anglers and charter boat captains say the proposed decree is contradictory as they say the use of gill nets would actually end up hurting more than it would help.

Stephen Schultz has been involved in Consent Decree negotiations in 1985 and 2000. He says past decrees have always strived to decrease the use of gill nets due to the damage it can cause to boats and fish populations.

“This decree goes in the opposite direction and appears to abandon the states 50-year policy by expanding tribal gill net fishing to waters that have not seen gill nets in over 40 years,” Schultz claims.

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Unlike trap nets, gill nets kill any fish that end up caught in it. One Ludington charter boat captain, Ryan Bullard, says allowing gill nets in the Great Lakes could have a huge impact on fish populations and his business.

“Ever since I was a toddler I’ve wanted to be a charter boat captain out of the City of Ludington. Here I make all the sacrifices in life to make it happen and to think the DNR is going to come in with gill nets and basically wipe out an entire fish system,” Bullard contends.

The Tribal Coordination Unit Manager for the DNR’s Fisheries Division, Dave Caroffino, says areas in Muskegon, Manistee and Ludington have been open to gill net fishing since 2015. He says there will be restrictions on where and when the tribe uses the nets as well as what they catch.

“I think most of these concerns are not cause for alarm by any means because Lake Trout populations are going to be governed by harvest limits the same way they were in the year 2000,” Caroffino states.

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He says the new consent decree makes huge stride in improving the catch report process and won’t hurt the Great Lakes.

“The number one goal for the state is to protect the resources. We would not have agreed to any provisions to the consent decree that could or would harm the resource. The tribes have no interest in harming the resource. So, we understand people’s passion and we appreciate that passion, but the resource is going to be protected,” Caroffino explains.

The new Consent Decree isn’t the law quite yet, as a federal judge will hear concerns from local conservation groups and the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians at a hearing May 24.


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