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August 30, 2011

MADISON -Boaters and anglers enjoying those late season outings on Lake Michigan are urged to be on the lookout for underwater hazards, including commercial fishing trap nets, state recreation safety officials say.

Summer restrictions end after Labor Day on where commercial fishing trap nets can be placed in the Sheboygan and Manitowoc/Two Rivers area, so the nets could be anywhere shallower than 150 feet and farther than one-quarter mile from shore in that general area. And this summer, wardens have had reports of boaters getting tangled in other buoys and underwater obstructions.

"We want to make sure that people are on the lookout for the flags and buoys that mark the nets and avoid them, wherever they are," says Warden Supervisor Chris Groth, who leads DNR's unit of marine wardens. "We also want to make sure that people understand there are other underwater hazards to be aware of and avoid."

Groth encourages all boaters on the Great Lakes to carry wire cutters onboard to free their boat should they get entangled in nets or other underwater obstructions; having such cutters on board and immediately accessible is required for people trolling with downriggers on lakes Michigan and Superior.

"Avoiding underwater obstructions in the first place is the best practice, but if you do find yourself in a bad situation, having the wire cutters on board can be a lifesaver," Groth says.

Trap nets are large underwater nets used by commercial fishers to catch whitefish in the Great Lakes. They are preferred to gillnets and trawls because sport fish that are accidentally caught in the nets can be released alive, however, the nets can pose a potential risk to boaters and anglers because boat downriggers, fishing lines, and propellers can get caught in the nets or anchor ropes.

The nets are marked by orange flags attached to a staff buoy at about 4 feet above the water surface. Flags are about 18 by 9 inches. Boaters should be aware that during rough water or heavy currents, these flags may tip down or be hidden by high waves. Orange buoys may also mark the ends of the nets.

Commercial fishers do not set trap nets near Port Washington, Milwaukee, Racine or Kenosha harbors, but the nets have historically been set in other parts of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior from late spring into the fall, Groth says.

In Zone 3, the area south of Sturgeon Bay, from June 29th through Labor Day, commercial trap nets are limited to two small areas: one south of Sheboygan harbor and one between Manitowoc and Two Rivers harbors. After Labor Day, trap nets may be found anywhere in that area. Commercial fishers can increase the number of nets they set from three each to 12 each after the time, but historically have decreased their fishing effort after Labor Day.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Warden Supervisor Chris Groth (920) 662-5449; Bill Horns (608) 266-8782

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 30, 2011

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