Do people catch steelhead trout in Lake Erie?
Law enforcement officials are seeing a larger than usual number of anglers illegally catching trout in Erie County, but the arrests may be just the tip of the iceberg.
“This year in particular, the numbers are a little bit higher,” said Clyde Warner, director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Office of Law Enforcement.
“I think (with) the exceptional weather we’ve had a week or so (ago), and the availability of fish, we’ve definitely seen fishing pressure become very heavy. Violations are definitely up this year compared to years past,” he said, including weeks in which The river water levels were shallow.
In the fall months, Lake Erie trout swim to small tributaries to spawn. Some waterways are low enough that fishermen can illegally catch the fish, which are often more than 20 inches long, or hook them with large hooks at the end of their fishing lines.
Between September 15 and December 15, Waterways Conservation Officers (WCOs) issued 258 citations and 245 warnings to anglers. While the most common warning was failure to obtain a personal licence, snagging (58) and exceeding the steelhead limit (26) were the most common violations encountered by global customs organizations. Anglers are allowed to keep three steelhead per day. A total of 18 WCOs from outside the Northwest region assisted in this effort.
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Water level plays a role.
“The creeks were low and clear most of the season. We had a lot of accidents at Trout Run,” Warner said.
The shallow run is a nursery of water closed to fishing. Upon entering Lake Erie, it is common to see large schools of fish in water that is only several inches deep.
“In areas that are open to traditional fishing, you might find someone hooking a fish, or they might take over the limit with a handful of fish. But we had some very good cases at Trout Run where there were more than 20 fish (caught), and another case that was more From 40, they would get there, in a short period of time, with nets and catch those fish,” Warner said. “Anyone familiar with Trout Run knows it’s very easy to do this quickly. Thanks to the quick response on our part and the help of the Pennsylvania State Police, we’ve been able to prosecute a few people for this, which is good.”
He said a publicly accessible webcam at Trout Run has helped with enforcement efforts, and he believes a new webcam at Walnut Creek will help as well. Both cameras can be viewed at FishUSA.com.
Chris Larson, president of the Pennsylvania Steelhead Association, thanked the CSOs for their work, but unfortunately they can’t be present everywhere within 40 or 50 miles of the creek shore.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” he said of the number of people arrested for illegally netting or grabbing steelhead. “It’s a big problem.”
Larson also credits Trout Run’s webcam for helping catch people intentionally engaging in illegal activities. He said people watching the waterway through webcam contacted law enforcement about the illegal fishing and officers responded in a timely manner.
“We are happy that they were able to catch the people who were fishing illegally,” he said.
Larson said the problem facing Erie and the entire state is that there are not enough law enforcement members to monitor and enforce the laws. For perspective, he said in Erie there are about 15 to 20 Lake Erie tributaries suitable for angling, and there are only so many CSOs.
“These people who are fishing illegally are taking more than their limit of fish. It’s unethical,” Larson said. “It’s just bad practice.”
The only question he wonders is what the thieves do with the fish. He said it doesn’t taste as good as some other fish in the area such as walleye and perch. He has been told that there are markets for meat and eggs in other states.
If the problem becomes widespread, it could become a challenge for fishery conservation.
“It’s kind of a barbaric practice,” Larson said of fishermen who use large hooks to catch fish on different parts of their bodies. “Fish are tied up everywhere. If they are returned, they will end up with wounds everywhere that are susceptible to disease or infection. It is bad practice.”
If anglers suspect someone is netting or scooping fish, Larson urges them to contact the Fish and Boat Commission.
“You have to be careful about confrontation with them at the creeks,” he said of not wanting anyone to get hurt trying to intervene.
While the vast majority of hunters follow the laws, it is frustrating for the hunting community to learn that illegal practices continue, Larson said.
As for the future, he doesn’t know how to reduce the number of people poaching fish other than funding more law enforcement officers.
Brian Wiebke is an outdoors columnist for the USA TODAY Network’s sites in Pennsylvania. Call him email@example.com And sign up for the Go Outdoors PA weekly email newsletter on the home page of this site under your login name. Follow him on Facebook@whipkeyoutdoorsand Instagram onWhipkeyoutdoors.