On December 6th at 6:00 PM a meeting was held in Mercer at the Haines Building to discuss 1) the results of the DNR’s recent comprehensive walleye population survey on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage, and 2) potential changes that could or should be made to walleye regulations because of the findings of this survey. The meeting was led by Iron County fish biologist Zach Lawson. Our property owner’s association distributed advance notice of this meeting via e-mail and our web page. Despite the “off-season” timing of the meeting, 33 members of the public were in attendance.
The primary findings of the walleye survey were:
- Adult walleye densities (#fish/acre) have declined as follows: 4.3 (1992), 4.0 (1994), 4.1 (2009), and 2.8 (2017).
- Recruitment has become more unstable than in the past.
- Population estimates have declined significantly and rapidly, whereas creel harvest estimates have declined more slowly.
- The average size of captured walleye has declined.
A discussion was held on possible changes to walleye size limits on the Flowage, and their possible effect on the population. Changes in bag limits were not discussed. There were many comments from the public. Current DNR categories for walleye size limits are as follows:
- no minimum length
- no minimum length with 1 fish over 14″
- no minimum length with a 14 to 18″ protected slot and 1 fish over 18″
- 15″ minimum length with a 20-24″ protected slot
- 18″ minimum length
- 28″ minimum length
- 15″ minimum length with a 20-28″ protected slot
Given the status of the fishery, 2 primary factors should be addressed: 1) protect the numerous 8-12” fish that result from successful year classes, such as those in 2016 and 2017, and 2) reduce harvest of females (larger fish in the population).
Perhaps a new “unique” size limit should be considered for the flowage – e.g., a 12” or 13” minimum size limit. Should “catch and release” be promoted?
Over the next several months Zach will be holding discussions with DNR officials about the possibility of developing a “unique” size limit for the flowage. And early next summer another public meeting will be held to discuss some specific size limit options and their probable effects on the walleye population.