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The Lake Erie fishing community let out a collective sigh of relief over the weekend as the Lake Erie Committee (LEC) gave anglers and business owners alike some fantastic news. The multi-national committee, which consists of representatives from Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and the Canadian province of Ontario, spent days discussing the health of sport fish populations throughout the lake. Their conclusion was largely positive, as they released their TAC or Total Allowable Catch, which is the maximum number of Walleye that can be harvested without causing any harm to the overall health of the population. The lake wide Walleye population was estimated at 21.2 million fish, and the 5 surrounding territories were allotted a TAC of 2.9 million fish. This is an increase of 700,000 fish, or roughly 32% higher than the 2010 figures.

     The Ohio Walleye limit will remain at 4 fish during the spawning season of March and April, and 6 fish throughout the remainder of the season. "The overall numbers are similar to last year, so changes in the bag limits won't be needed," said Ray Petering, the head of fisheries management for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "We've had average walleye hatches during two of the last four years [2007 and 2010], which is an improvement. We're keeping our fingers crossed we have another reasonable walleye hatch this spring."

     Michigan took a slightly different stance on the situation and actually increased their daily bag limit to 6 fish effective May 1st 2011. Michigan, along with Ohio, has adopted a new method of setting regulations just prior to the open water season using real time data as opposed to using numbers and estimates that are nearly a year old.

     “This change to the regulations process is critical to helping us manage walleyes in Lake Erie in a timely manner,” said Michigan DNR Lake Erie Basin Coordinator Liz Hay-Chmielewski. “In order to do that, we have to set regulations in March instead of the previous autumn.”

     Both state’s creel limits are based on their share of the TAC. Ohio’s quota is 1.124 million fish, while Michigan’s portion is .17 million fish. Ontario has the largest share of the TAC with an allotment of 1.26 million walleye.

     "We are optimistic about Lake Erie Fishing prospects this year," said Roger Knight, Lake Erie fisheries program manager for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "Weather is always the wild card on Lake Erie, but anglers who take advantage of seasonal fishing opportunities have good odds at catching walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, white bass, and steelhead, often in combination during many trips."

      Overall this is great news for everyone involved, as the possibility of drastic cuts have been hinted at for nearly a year. Decreasing the creel limits would have hampered local business across the lake, which depend on the health of the fishery for their survival.

     Now, lets all collectively keep our fingers crossed and hope that the walleye making their way to Lake Erie’s western basin and various rivers have a successful spawn in 2011.

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