Letter to WDNR in Regards to the recent WDNR/Tribal Negoations

Below is the bulk of the text of a letter the AISA Board sent to the WDNR in regards to the recent WDNR /Tribal negotiations.

Good Day, The purpose of this letter is to inform the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources of concerns of the membership of the Apostle Islands Sport Fishermen’s Association in regards to the Apostle Islands (WI-2) fishery and the upcoming negotiated Tribal Agreement.

  1. We respect and understand the importance of honoring treaty rights between the State of Wisconsin and the Red Cliff and Bad River Tribes.
  2. It is clear that what is really under negotiation is the survival of a renewable fishery resource in the Apostle Islands. The fishery cannot survive the current demands along with the inadequate enforcement that is leading to depletion of the Lake Trout, Herring, and even the Whitefish stocks in WI-2.
  3. The long term health of the Apostle Islands fishery, and by extension, the whole Lake Superior Fishery, needs to be the first priority of all parties. As the current herring problem in Minnesota demonstrates, the Apostle Islands acts as a spawning ground and fish nursery area for all of western Lake Superior. Long term damage to this area, damages the whole Lake.

With those thoughts in mind, we wish to address several key issues that we feel need to be resolved in negotiations.

  1. The importance of the current system of refuges to the health of the fishery.

Aesop’s fable about choking the goose that laid the golden egg had it right. For thirty five –plus years these refuges have led to the restoration of the Apostle Islands Fishery. Without these refuges Lake Trout and other species as well would not have the sanctuary they need to reproduce and propagate the Apostle Islands with new generations of catchable fish. The refuges must be retained, and in some cases, should be expanded. Failure to do so will guarantee continued reduced catches of all species by Tribal, non-tribal commercial, and sport fishermen.

  1. The importance of instituting herring and whitefish quotas before it is too late.

As the Lake Trout/Lamprey/over fishing era of the 1950’s taught us, once a resource is destroyed, it takes generations to rebuild it. Short term decisions make for a short term future. Controls and limits on the two most valuable species of prey fish need to be implemented.  The idea is to harvest what the Lake can sustain. It is AISA’s opinion that in WI-2, we are pushing the upper limits of sustainability or have passed them, in regards to these two species. In addition, as herring go, so Lake Trout go. You take too many of one, it affects the population of the other in a negative fashion. Conservative sustainable quotas of both species needs to be a priority of all parties.

  1. The need and benefit for adequate net free sport fishing areas.

The economic impact of sport fishing is far larger than any other use of the fishery. Under the 2016 Emergency Lake Trout rules, the sport fishermen will be restricted to 18% of the total Lake Trout harvest, yet even this limited amount continues to draw sportsmen from all over the Midwest. No other use of this resource returns the benefit to the local hotels, restaurants and casinos that sport fishing does in attracting visitors to our area. It is that simple.

The net free sport fishing areas that we feel are most important are the South Channel area extending to the Gull Island Refuge Western Border, the Hagen’s beach seasonal restriction area stretching East from Grants Point to Big Bay and due east to the Western Border of the Gull Island Refuge. An additional area we feel strongly should be net free is the area due north of the Gull Island Refuge, and due East of Outer Island. This is an extremely popular area for catch and release of trophy Lake Trout, which are also strong spawning individuals.

The Apostle Islands Sport Fishermen’s Association has taken the lead in working with the GLIFWC Wardens and Wisconsin Sea Grant to educate sport fishermen in regards to safely fishing around nets. But the best advice is still; avoid them. Further restricting areas that are net free will lead to a further decline in tourist visits to this area, rather than an increase which would benefit all the party’s economies.

It is our understanding that previous negotiations have surrendered part of the State authorized Lake Trout take in return for the creation of net free sport fishing areas. Although we would prefer to keep the net free areas, any reduction of those net free areas in the current treaty should be accompanied by a return of a commensurate portion of that same Lake Trout take to be added to the State portion of the quota and in turn added to the sport fishing Lake Trout quota as recompense for the loss of those areas. Surrendering a portion of the State Quota of Lake Trout needs to have something given in return, otherwise we would prefer to have the extra fish.

  1. The need for effective enforcement and punishment of offenders by all parties to this agreement.

To put it simply, enforcement of Tribal,  sport and non-tribal commercial, regulations leaves much to be desired, and individuals in all three of the above groups have been observed to take advantage of it, to the detriment of the resource. Any standards or quotas set by these negotiations are useless however, unless all parties have   the will to enforce their regulations with effective enforcement and proper punishment of the offenders. No one thing could benefit the Lake Superior Fishery more than this. The laws are on the books, whether they be Tribal, Sport or non-native commercial. They need to be effectively enforced. To assist in that effort, the AISA strongly supports cross- jurisdictional-deputizing of all State, Tribal, and GLIFWC Wardens in the Lake Superior waters of Wisconsin to allow all of them to equally enforce both State and Tribal regulations. In order to increase the effective manpower on the water to protect the fishery.

  1. The most important request AISA has is that non indigenous sport species, such as the Brown Trout and the Coho Salmon never be allowed to become commercially sold species by either tribal or non-tribal commercial netters. Such an action would effectively spell the end of sport fishing in the Apostle Islands, and lead to long term un-resolvable conflict between the Tribal, Commercial, and the Sport, Fishermen.
  2. As far as the Lake Superior Fishery it is far too important an issue to be lumped in with other Tribal /State issues in a give and take manner. We ask that the Lake Superior Fishery Agreement be negotiated to stand alone without links or agreements in regards to other issues.

Like it or not, it is clear to the Sport Fishing Community that the limits of harvestable fishery resources in WI-2 have been reached. It should no longer be approached with the idea of how to catch more, but with how to use more effectively the harvest level we currently have. It is hoped that all parties in the negotiations will agree on what is necessary for the long term protection and sustainability of the Apostle Island Fishery Resource.