May 24 Update
Re: Report on May 24 Executive Council Meeting
Jim Vander Maas, Bryan Eade, Frank Krist, Theresa Krist, Steve Schultz, and Chris Patterson attended the Executive Council meeting held at the Odawa Hotel in Petoskey, Michigan. The meeting started at 1:00 p.m., and although only two action items were presented on the agenda, the meeting lasted until 5:00 p.m.
As the Agenda and supporting materials indicate, and as discussed below, the two actions items were Item V (MH-1,2 Harvest Limit for the St ate) and Item VI (Proposal to Increase Walleye Daily Possession Limit, CORA). The State did mention the proposed state commercial fishing statute (Senate Bill No. 925) in Item VII. This statute was set for a potential hearing in early June, but that hearing was adjourned without date. We recommend that you read the proposed bill and provide any comments to Jim Vander Maas, Frank Krist or the undersigned. The bill can be located here: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2017-2018/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2018- SIB-0925.pdf.
Action Item VI- Walleye Limits. At the outset of the meeting, the Agenda was rearranged by the Chair of the meeting, the Tribal Chair of Grand Traverse Bay Band and Item VI was first discussed. The proposal in the packet sought an increase in tribal catch of walleye from September 15 through November 6 for certain grids in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron. The grids in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron were proposed for retention of 150lbs of round weight of walleye per vessel per day. The grids in Lake Superior were proposed for 100 lbs of round weight of walleye per vessel per day. The proposal was changed verbally by CORA at the meeting to increase the by catch for Lake Superior grids to also be 150lbs, and CORA sought the requested bycatch allowance of 150 lbs year round. With these changes, this was the proposal discussed at the meeting.
CORA supported the proposal by explaining the current amount of by catch occurring, the amount of discard occurring, and in part, by arguing that 150 lbs per day was not sufficient to create targeting and the fish were already being taken while harvesting other species (Some remarks indicated that focusing on whether it is or is not targeting should be irrelevant to the analysis). CORA further argued that the State had proposed its own allowance of walleye and lake trout by catches outside of 1836 treaty waters for the State’s recently proposed state commercial fishing regulations. In part, the early proposed State commercial fishing legislation from 2017 did propose 100lbs of permitted by catch for walleye in the Saginaw Bay.
The State caucused for some time on the issue, in part due to the recent amendments to the written proposal which created an expansion of the by catch. The State proposed in response: (1) 150 lbs of walleye bycatch would be permitted in the grids proposed from Sept 15 through Nov. 6.; (2) 50 lbs of walleye by catch would be permitted in the grids proposed from May 15 through September 14; and (3) the Tribes had to report the amount of bycatch occurring, the amount of discard occurring, and several other minor parameters the parties would work out in a written stipulation to amend the Consent Decree.
After further discussions on the State proposal, the parties agreed to the State’s proposal, which permits an allowance of walleye by catch through the end of the current Consent Decree in August, 2020. (Note that a similar stipulation was in effect from August, 2016 through to November 2016, which permitted 150 lbs of walleye by catch in certain Lake Michigan and Lake Huron grids and 100 lbs of walleye bycatch in certain Lake Superior grids from September 15 through November 6.)
Action Item V- Lake Huron Harvest Limits.
Lake Trout Harvest Limits in zones MH-1 and MH-2 for the State is not a new issue to either the Executive Council or CPMR. As many of you are aware, the State exceeded its 2016 harvest limit in MH-1 by 27,840 lbs. Harvest limits were similarly exceeded by the State in 2017 in MH-1. Under the Decree, the State would have to apply a 15% penalty to the harvest limit set for the following season. These penalties have not yet been realized by the State in MH-1 as the State has been negotiating with the Tribes to combine MH-1 and MH-2 and manage it as a single unit. The biologists for all parties have agreed that the two zones may be combined for management purposes, but Tribal officials have refused to agree to this management change.
The combined units would allow a higher harvest limit for all parties, which even after application of the 15% penalty could have avoided impacts to sport fishing in MH-1. The proposal provided prior to this meeting, in writing in the attached agenda, and verbally at the meeting were rejected by the Tribes. The Tribes’ rejection appears to be based on two factors: (1) they were unwilling to combine the management units and renegotiate an allocation percentage for a combined MH-1 and MH-2; and (2) the Tribes have previously closed their fishery to stay within the harvest limits provided by the Consent Decree, and it was alleged that there was no cooperation from the State at that time.
The differing views of the parties did not allow a resolution of the
harvest limits at the meeting. But, the Tribes invited the State to return with a new proposal and any potential incentive that was appropriate considering the State’s request. It appears that the State will be reviewing and proposing alternative stipulations that would allow establishment of the harvest limits for MH-1. In short, there is a potential for a significant impact to the sport fishers in MH-1 in this and coming years as the reduction in any established harvest limit could lead to reduced bag limits.
From our observation of the parties’ discussions during the meeting, it appears to us that the issues presented to the Executive Council now are more for posturing prior to expiration of the 2000 Consent Decree than to explore true problem solving. In addition, one could also conclude that for some of the parties, there may be no intent to negotiate a new Consent Decree prior to the lapse of the current Consent Decree. This would mean that as of August 9, 2020, Tribal activities would not be subject to the harvest limits and management requirements imposed under the current Consent Decree. This could, then, return us to the days before the 1985 Consent Decree was adopted by the Court where a “race horse” fishery prevailed that required Court intervention on a regular basis. For those who may recall those days, the impact on the sport fishery was devastating.
There were also remarks made indicating that the biological changes in the lakes are changing the Tribal perspective and urgency on whitefish management. Some Tribes may also be interested in exploring other fish species as the Tribes feel is necessary or appropriate. For example, the interest in whitefish by the Tribes and interest in salmon by the sport fishery, as set forth in the 2000 Consent Decree, might not constitute the dividing line in use of the Great Lakes fishery. For some tribal interests, there appears to be an interest in fishing all species in the Great Lakes, and based on comments made, potentially not pursuant to a decree governing all parties’ actions.
At the close of the meeting, and on behalf of the Coalition, Steve
Schultz presented several concerns to the Council, including the lack of agreement between the parties to start negotiations and the lost time occurring without any negotiations presents a significant risk that the current Decree will expire leaving a lapse in the management of the fishery. He noted the historical time it has taken to negotiate the prior consent decrees (1985, 2000, and 2007), which if followed here, would warrant starting negotiations as soon as possible. The Tribal response to this request to start the process was not received with any indication that negotiations would begin anytime this year.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact any of us that were present further elaboration.