Mini Poll Walleye Season Shortening

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It's almost official: [Report as of 04/28/04]

Region 9 DEC is recommending that walleye season be shortened, closing angling on the New York side of the lower river starting on January 1, 2005 until the traditional opener of the first Saturday in May. That's the word that has been handed down by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation in an effort to protect pre-spawning walleye that have been highly susceptible to angling pressure. 

In a letter to Niagara River Anglers Association president Doug Stein of Grand Island, Region 9 Fisheries Manager Paul McKeown wrote "we determined that conservative actions to further protect a highly susceptible pre-spawning concentration of walleye would be consistent with on-going efforts to restore a self-sustaining population of walleye to the Lower Niagara River. We also felt that this additional protection would be particularly important in light of the potential for the winter recreational fishery and associated harvest of walleye to expand. We therefore have forwarded the proposed shortening of the walleye season through the regulatory process and expect it to be effective beginning October 1, 2004." As a result of this change, a couple of things will probably happen now that DEC has gone to making regulations changes every two years. First, some studies will take place on the lower river to determine what strain of walleye is present and what the relative abundance of the walleye population really is. From that, a determination will be made as to what a "safe harvest" really is for the winter, if there is one. 

Depending on the results of that information, we suspect that a new regulation recommendation will come forth by proponents for keeping the season open in the winter. Going back to the old regulation is one option, but not likely. Another is to allow for one trophy fish per person per day, similar to the trophy early season bass fishery on Lake Erie. The creel could drop from three to two fish. There could be a slot limit imposed in an effort to protect the prime spawners. Catch and release only was an option that was talked about. Or, the season could remain shortened indefinitely. We'll have to sit back and wait to see what the studies bring us. 

The original recommendation to shorten the season came from a resolution from the NRAA, a strong proponent of walleye restoration in the lower river. Had people opposed to the closure come forth earlier to recommend less restrictive measures, we'd probably be looking at one of the aforementioned alternatives. By the time people came forward to say that closing the season was too aggressive of a move, there was no compromising. It was all or nothing. With the intensity of some of the promotions the lower river winter walleye fishery has received the last couple of years, keeping it open two more years was not an option in the minds of those proposing the shortening of the walleye season. In the meantime, fishermen will continue to be able to fish for walleye in January and February on the Province of Ontario side of the river if they are properly licensed.

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This information was written by Bill Hilt Jr. and was a part of a newspaper report on the subject.

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