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DNRE Considers Expanding Gear Restricted Trout Streams

An angler admires a brown trout taken from a stretch of one of Michigan's more than 12,000 miles of trout stream

By now, most trout fishermen know that the Department of Natural Resources and Environment made its first major adjustment to trout stream management since the system of categorizing streams into "Types" -- using standardized regulations for each type -- was adopted in 1999.

In 2010, three river types -- Types 5, 6 and 7 - were bundled together into a single category of Gear Restricted Streams. All streams in the new category maintained the same regulations as they had during the previous system such as artificial lures-only, flies-only, and flies-only with no-kill allowed.

The Gear Restricted Streams category was designed to allow more flexibility for regulations among the streams in the category than was allowed under the original system.

Last spring, the DNRE had also proposed eliminating the Type 2 category, which had larger minimum size limits than Type 1 streams, because, for the most part, the more-restrictive regulations did not yield the desired results; they did not produce bigger fish. But a number of members of the trout fishing community did not like the idea of eliminating Type 2 streams entirely. So the DNRE withdrew that proposal and announced that it would review all Type 2 streams to see if they would fit better into a less restrictive category, should remain as Type 2 streams, or should be included in the Gear Restricted Streams category.

Until 2002, the department was limited by statute to a total of 100 miles of streams with gear restrictions. In 2002, the Legislature expanded the allowable total of gear restricted streams to 212. And ever since, some trout-fishing organizations have lobbied for more miles of gear-restricted streams.

After meeting with the state's Coldwater Regulations Review Committee -- which is made up of representatives of various constituency groups, such as Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Trout Unlimited, Federation of Fly Fishermen and Anglers of the Au Sable - the department asked the public to nominate streams or stream segments for inclusion on the Gear Restricted category.

The DNRE received more than 500 individual emails, nominating more than 1,300 miles of stream for the Gear Restricted category.

Trout, collected from a stream by a DNRE survey crew, will be aged and measured to help determine the best regulations to reach the stream's potential

Since that time, DNRE fisheries biologists have reviewed the nominations as well as all Type 2 streams. Department personnel evaluated the proposed stream segments based on biological and physical criteria. Biologically, the streams had to exhibit good growth rates for trout, show good survival of trout, and enjoy low natural mortality rates for trout to be good candidates for the Gear Restricted Streams category. Biologists also looked at other factors, such as accessibility to the public, how well the streams were suited to fishing with restricted gear, and the level of public acceptance for gear restrictions on those streams.

The DNRE staff has come up with a number of recommendations as part of a document that has been presented to the Coldwater Regulations Review Committee and posted on the DNRE web site. Department personnel identified a little more than 150 miles of stream to date that might be suitable for the Gear Restricted Streams category, including 105 miles that are currently in the restricted-gear category.

DNRE Fisheries biologist Steve Sendek measures a brown trout in the Au Sable River, where gear restrictions are already in force

Some of the recommendations call for expanding the mileage of streams that already have segments included in the category, such as the eight-mile stretch of the mainstream of the Au Sable River, from Wakeley Bridge to McMasters Bridge. Others are segments of streams that have been managed under experimental regulations, such as the 15-mile stretch of the Au Sable from the power lines below Mio Dam to McKinley Bridge, which already has artificial lures-only regulations. And others are new stretches of river, such as some stretches of the South Branch of the Paint River in the Upper Peninsula, which have good public access, self-sustaining trout populations, and good growth rates. Specific regulations have been proposed for each stream segment.

The DNRE will soon begin holding public meetings in the vicinities of the streams that have been recommended for inclusion in the Gear Restricted category. The meetings will not only inform local residents of the proposed changes to regulations, but will allow public comment, helping staffers judge how well the public will accept the regulations. There will likely be areas where the anglers will welcome the regulations changes and others where there will be opposition. The meetings will help the DNRE come up with a final list of recommendations for Gear Restricted Streams.

Final recommendations from the department will be presented to the DNRE director - who has authority to set fishing regulations - and at a meeting of the Natural Resources Commission this fall. Based on additional public comments on the proposals at the NRC meeting, a final list of river segments with gear restrictions will be put together by the end of the year.

Those stream segments will go into the Gear Restricted Streams category effective April 1, 2011.

For a look at the DNRE's recommendations - or to find out about public meetings concerning the proposals - visit the DNRE website at www.michigan.gov/dnre.

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