So much for scientific game and fish management.
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission was expected Thursday to approve a recommendation that it relax bass fishing regulations.
The recommendation follows lobbying that started a year ago by bass tournament groups that wanted more time and opportunity to pursue Michigan bass, particularly the ones in Lake St. Clair. In response, the DNR came up with four proposals and have been asking for angler reaction with surveys, polls and public meetings.
The four proposals start with leaving existing regulations in place, which prohibit targeting bass during the closed season except for narrow catch-and-release seasons. Catch-and-keep seasons are the Saturday before Memorial Day to Dec. 31 in most of the state; and the third Saturday in June to Dec. 31 on Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair and Detroit rivers.
And they end with year-round catch-and-release fishing and catch-and-keep fishing in the Lower Peninsula from the end of April to Dec. 31.
The DNR ultimately recommended new rules that are very close to the first option but that still worry a lot of the bass anglers who are concerned about preserving Lake St. Clair’s world class fishery.
The proposal before the NRC would allow year-round catch-and-release bass fishing but would leave catch-and-keep seasons as they are now.
The DNR rejected much of what the bass tournament faction favored because it said the extended harvest season would probably harm bass numbers.
Opponents worry that extended catch-and-release fishing could do the same thing. It’s no secret that targeting bass during the spawning season is almost cruelly easy. Bass will attack anything that gets near a nest during the spawning season, making them too vulnerable to exploitation.
Sure, it is catch-and-release fishing, but that is not the same as leaving the fish alone.
Most bass anglers release the fish they catch year-round. They also know that some fish, even if it is a small number, are harmed in the process.
What’s disturbing is the DNR’s analysis of the impact of year-round catch-and-release. “There does not appear to be evidence that increased fishing pressure under (catch and immediately release) will negatively affect Michigan’s bass populations. However, there could be some instances where it may have a negative impact on some local populations.”
If this is supposed to be based on science, what exactly does “does not appear to be evidence” mean? Is there no negative affect, no evidence or just no effort to look for it?
And as for that second sentence, how many weasel words can a bureaucrat squeeze into a single phrase? “Could be?” “Some populations?”
To be fair, not everyone at the DNR agreed with the recommendation.
But maybe it will be harmless.
And maybe it will be worth it.
“Finally,” the DNR analysis says, “this recommendation could have a positive effect on fishing license sales and expand tourism activity to some areas of the state.”
Contact Michael Eckert at firstname.lastname@example.org, (810) 989-6264, on Facebook @michaeleckert or on Twitter @michaeleckert.