DNR plan discussed at Waupaca meeting
By Greg Seubert
New panfish regulations are scheduled to go into effect Friday, April 1, on nearly 100 bodies of water throughout Wisconsin.
That list includes a handful of lakes in Waupaca, Waushara, Portage and Shawano counties.
The experimental regulations that still need the approval of the state Natural Resources Board and Gov. Scott Walker are part of the state Department of Natural Resources’ 10-year plan for managing Wisconsin’s panfish population, which includes bluegill, crappie and perch.
The Waupaca Area Public Library hosted the third of three statewide meetings Feb. 11 regarding the plan, which is still in draft form. About 30 people attended the hour-long meeting. Similar meetings were held Feb. 9 in Hayward and Feb. 10 in Waukesha.
Max Wolter, a DNR fisheries biologist based in Hayward and leader of the department’s panfish team, went over the plan.
He also attended the Feb. 9 meeting in Hayward.
“We had 26 people come out and they asked a lot of good questions and made a lot of good comments, similar to this meeting,” he said. “There were a lot of questions about the regulations and generally seemed to be in support of what was in the management plan. They like the idea of habitat, research and things like that.
“I’m pleased to see the comments we’re getting back here seem to be in line with what we got before,” he added. “The plan that we designed fed off of that public feedback. I feel optimistic that we’ve done a good job following peoples’ comments.”
Objectives of the plan, which can be found at dnr.wi.gov and searching “panfish plan,” are:
• Protecting and improving panfish habitat.
• Regulating fishing mortality with angling regulations.
• Population manipulation through predation.
• Assessing panfish populations.
• Managing panfish populations through stocking.
• Engaging and informing anglers.
• Managing panfish based on sound science.
“This plan is in draft form right now,” Wolter said. “There’s no plan for panfish and panfish are the most popular fish in Wisconsin. Anglers’ concerns about panfish are ramping up and there’s a lot of legitimacy to these concerns.”
Previous studies have indicated a decline in size of panfish, according to Wolter.
“The size has been going down,” he said. “That’s a concern for anglers and a concern for biologists as well.”
The plan includes three experimental regulations that will take effect starting April 1 on 94 bodies of water.
The daily bag limit regulations are:
• 25/10: Anglers can harvest 25 panfish, but no more than 10 of any one species.
• 15/5: Anglers can harvest 15 panfish, but no more than five of any one species.
• 15/5 Seasonal: Anglers can harvest 15 panfish, but no more than five of any one species during May and June. Anglers will be able to harvest 25 panfish the rest of the year.
“There’s no interest in changing the bag limit statewide, but anglers said they wanted to work on problem lakes,” Wolter said.
The list of 94 bodies of water include Graham, Hartman, School Section, Stratton, White and Shadow lakes in Waupaca County; Big Hills, Irogami, Kusel and Porters lakes in Waushara County; Emily and Lime lakes in Portage County; and White Clay Lake in Shawano County.
“It’s a pretty understandable reaction for people to look at these in the short term as ‘My opportunity’s being taken away,’” Wolter said. “What we’re trying to do is create a better opportunity in the long run by creating a better fishery with bigger fish to kind of respond to situations where we feel that lakes are underperforming. The conventional wisdom at the time was we don’t do anything about panfish and panfish take care of themselves.”
Wolter said the DNR will evaluate the plan in five years and share its findings with the public.
“You have to let these things play out for a period of time,” he said. “What we’ve seen is the longer these things are in effect, the better they work. We’ve seen it from other lakes here, we’ve seen it in Minnesota.
“We want to give them a period of time to prove themselves,” he said. “After that’s up, we can start reporting back. We’ll start checking back on these in five years, but the final report will be 10.”
The DNR is accepting comments on the plan through Friday, March 18. Comments can be mailed to Wolter at DNR, 10220 State Highway 27 S., Hayward, WI 54843; or emailed to him at Max.Wolter@wisconsin.gov.
“There is no Crappies Unlimited or Bluegills for Tomorrow,” Wolter said. “Panfish cover a huge range of people and we want to get them included in this plan.”