Sports fishermen and commercial fishers at odds over bills to change fishing statute
Commercial fishermen say a package of bills in the state house could put them out of business.
The bills would increase fees and codify regulations that block commercial fisherman from taking yellow perch, lake trout, and walleye.
Cameron McMurry is with Big Stone Bay Fishery in Mackinaw City. He said the thirteen remaining commercial fishers in the state could fish 24/7 and never put a dent in sport populations like trout or walleye.
“All this talk about us doing something is just complete BS, you know what I mean?” He said.
McMurry said the work of commercial fishers is undervalued and many visitors to the state come to taste fresh-caught fish from the Great Lakes.
“I provide fish from Frankfurt all the way around the horn down to Harrisville and some places in the UP,” McMurry said. “I’m just one guy.”
According to McMurry the bills are edging commercial fishermen out of the industry. Without him, most Great Lakes fish served in restaurants will be shipped over from Canada.
Republican Representative Jim Lilly sponsored the package which includes HB4567, HB4568, and HB4569. He said he thinks the risks to the commercial fishing industry are overstated and sport-fish need to be protected.
“We want to make sure that our children and our grandchildren enjoy the same opportunities to engage in this recreation and this hobby that our parents and our grandparents were able to,” Lilly said. “I think that’s at risk if we don’t get something figured out here.”
Lilly added that fish stocking is overwhelmingly paid for by Anglers - who should enjoy the benefit of fishing them.
The bulk of the current fishing statute dates back to 1929, with the most recent revision in 1968. DNR officials say there are significant issues with a statute that old.
Seth Herbst is with the Michigan DNR. He said from an enforcement perspective it’s hard to enforce commercial fishing violations because of how low the fines are.
“We want to make sure we’re doing what we can to deter commercial fishing violations,” he said.
$100 is the maximum fine under current law for a commercial fishing violations.
“That’s not appropriate for protecting our natural resources,” Herbst said.
A study commissioned by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which supports the bills, showed the state’s sport fishing industry is worth more than $2 billion.
Amy Trotter is with the Conservation Clubs.
“It’s sport fishing anglers who are paying for the protection and management of these species so we do feel we should have a say in how these species are regulated,” she said.
Not everyone is in agreement, however.
Democratic State Representative Sara Cambensy has introduced a competing fisheries bill that is more in line with commercial fishers. She said she thinks people need to take a broader view on the issue.
“When I look at who is taking the majority of fish out of the Great Lakes, Canada harvests about four to five times as much with their commercial fishing operation than we do on the state side,” she said. “Maybe we can divide that take up more evenly with Canada.”
Dennis Eade is with the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen’s Association. He said Lake Superior, in Cambensy’s district, represents a narrow slice of the state fishery.
“Lake Superior’s Lake Trout have been able to recover but in the Great Lakes Michigan, Huron, Eerie they have not recovered,” he said. “They will not be recovered in the foreseeable future.”
But, Eade added, “if she wants to initiate negotiations with Canada, all power to her.”
All of the bills are currently sitting in committee.
Note: This story was updated to include all three of the bills in the package that would change the state's fishing statute.