Michigan Fisheries Say They’re Swimming in Sea of Red Tape

The Great Lakes state’s commercial industry is already in bad shape. They fear bills in Lansing might be a fatal blow.

Fishing on the Great Lakes is in limbo right now. There’s legislation in the state Senate to change commercial fishing regulations, and five Michigan Native American tribes are in negotiations with the state over fishing rights.

What happens over the next few months could have lasting impacts on fishing in Michigan’s Great Lakes.

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Bills currently in a state Senate committee would tighten commercial fishing regulations and update fines and penalties for violations. Supporters say the current laws are decades old and in need of a face lift.

But the few remaining full time commercial fisheries say these bills, as currently written, would destroy them. That’s in large part because the legislation would permanently take away their ability to fish for lake trout, walleye and perch. Right now, they can’t legally fish for trout and walleye, and perch can only be caught in specific areas. If passed, commercial fishers would never be able to catch these types of fish.

Tribes look to re-negotiate

There’s also the ongoing issue of renewing the 2000 Great Lakes Consent Decree between the state and five Native American tribes.

A consent decree was supposed to be finalized in August, but a judge granted an extension until the end of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state shares the amount of fish that can be caught with the tribes, and each tribe has a designated commercial fishing area. The consent decree will lay out all the terms of the agreement, including location and types of gear that can be used.

But the current sticking point is one tribe, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe, wants to get rid of exclusive zones for each tribe and allow all the tribes to fish in any area.

Whether the groups will be able to work out an agreement, and what that agreement looks like, before December 31 could fundamentally change fishing on the Great Lakes for years to come.

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  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.
  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.