by Lia Biondo, MUCC Policy Intern
Over ninety percent of anglers in Michigan rate bass fishing as good, very good, or excellent, according to a public opinion survey put out this past summer by the Department of Natural Resources.
That’s no surprise, as several Michigan bass fishing spots consistently rank among some of the best in the nation by top fishing and sportsmen publications. Our bass populations are thriving, and anglers have noticed.
In December of 2013, Michigan B.A.S.S Nation urged the DNR to change the official bass season to allow for catch-and-immediate release year-round, and to open catch-and-keep statewide from the Saturday before Memorial Day until December 31st. The proposal aimed to address declining angler participation and a lack of fishing license sales, as well as to increase fishing opportunity for both resident and non-resident anglers.
Only four states currently have closed bass seasons – Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine. Michigan B.A.S.S Nation pointed out that these season closures are based on old data, and cited new studies that demonstrated that our bass populations will continue to thrive and expand even with year-round catch-and-immediate-release. The closed bass seasons simply make it more difficult to recruit out-of-state anglers to purchase Michigan fishing licenses, and limit the fishing opportunity for resident anglers.
Bass is one of the top, most-sought after fish in Michigan waters, and even with this pressure, there appears to be very little risk of over-harvesting. According to a DNR public opinion survey, around seventy percent of Michigan anglers consider themselves to be bass fishermen. Further, about sixty-two percent of anglers reported that they release all of the bass they catch. Expanding the catch-and-immediate-release season would have little effect on bass populations when over half of Michigan anglers are already releasing all of the fish they catch, with little to no negative consequences.
There is wide support for this proposal from conservation and fishing groups around the state. Lake St. Clair, where the B.A.S.S. Elite Series Tournaments take place, has consistently been ranked the nation’s best bass fishing spot, with a noticed increase in angling activity by non-resident anglers over the past few years. The fishing tournaments bring an estimated three million dollars to the area’s local economy for each three-day event. These tournament series are huge, and could potentially turn into an opportunity for greater tourism in the area and in the state as a whole.
Although no one argues the recreational and economic benefit of extending the bass catch-and-immediate-release season to year-round, the catch and keep season is still being debated among stakeholders and the DNR. DNR’s Warmwater Resources Steering Committee has stated that these issues involve more than the bass anglers, and will require further time to explore the intended and unintended consequences of the new season proposal, yet it seems that many other angling groups have been neutral to supportive to going a step further even and extending bass harvest opening day to match up with other warmwater species. As ethical sportsmen and women, we can certainly understand the value of allowing time to make these decisions and the importance to act on good scientific information, with careful evaluation and adaptation as necessary.
To see the entire Michigan B.A.S.S. Nation proposal, click HERE.
by Lia Biondo, MUCC Policy Intern