Hunting Controversy Continues – Huron County View
Huron County – This debate has been going on for some time, and it flared up again last month.
In October, Ann Arbor State Representative Jason Morgan introduced House Bill 5108, which could expand commercial fishing endeavors in state waters. The bill would allow commercial harvesting of several species of sport fish that were previously banned, including walleye, perch, and lake trout.
As currently written, the bill would allow commercial fishermen to catch 25 percent of the total permitted catch of fish in the Great Lakes each year.
The bill is also co-sponsored by State Rep. Gregory Alexander, who represents the 98th House District, which includes residents in parts of Lapeer, Sanilac and Tuscola counties, as well as all of Huron County.
Todd Williams, owner of Bay Port Fish Company (BPFC), said he supports the new legislation and believes fishing in the state could be sustainable with commercial and recreational fishermen under the proposal.
The two groups, along with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, have been trying to come up with a solution for at least 20 years, he said.
“We’ve been close many times, but we can never agree on everything between us, between the DNR and the sporting groups,” Williams said.
Williams is a member of the Lake Huron Advisory Committee and the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission.
He said there are approximately 10 million people in Michigan, with just over 1 million sports licenses.
“So we represent the nine million people who don’t fish,” he said. “So, if we can get a partial share of the walleye, it’s not only good for our business, it’s good for our customers and good for the economy and everything else.”
The BPFC mainly fishes for whitefish in Saginaw Bay.
“For us, it will be possible to take some walleye. That will be our most important part,” Williams said.
He said diversification would help enhance the stability of his business, as well as other struggling companies in the industry.
“It’s like the road — they basically don’t want to share anything — they say it’s their fish,” Williams said of recreational fishermen who oppose the bill. “Well, they are, but they also represent everyone in the state of Michigan.”
But while advocates like Williams say the legislation would provide much-needed updates to the state’s fishing rules and help sustain the struggling commercial fishing industry, not everyone agrees.
A group of conservation, fishing, habitat and outdoor entities – including the Thumb Chapter of Michigan Steelhead and the Salmon Fishermen’s Association (MSSFA) – strongly oppose HB 5108.
The group says there are a number of concerns about the proposed legislation, including the commercialization of fish found in Secretariat, allowing the use of gillnets for commercial fishermen, and the right to renew commercial fishing licenses.
“We don’t like it,” said Scott Stankey, state representative for Thumb Steelheaders. “We know that commercial fishermen are just trying to make a living, but the fact that they are letting the gillnets out is the part we don’t like on our end.”
The recreational fishing industry brings more than $2 million annually to Michigan, which could be at risk if the legislation passes as currently presented, Stankey said.
The activities of the DNR’s Fisheries Division, including the cultivation and management of sport fish, are supported largely by revenues generated from fishing license fees and federal Dingell-Johnson funding.
In addition to MSSFA, other entities opposing HB 5108 include Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Michigan Trout Unlimited, and Safari Club International.
The group recently released its position on the bill:
“The bill has been proposed under false pretenses claiming to protect sport fishing while expanding commercial trade. There are no protections for sport fishing in the bill, and in fact the bill threatens to deplete sport fishing stocks on an almost regular basis. What is needed is to update and pass new commercial fishing legislation Prioritizes healthy fisheries and habitats that benefit everyone. Codifying the decades-old statute will ensure that the next generation of Michiganders have the same healthy fish populations that we had.
A bill is currently being worked on by State Rep. Amos O’Neill, which aims to address these issues.
“I understand we have to find common ground here,” Stankey said.
HB 5108 was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation.