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Lake Michigan whitefish management

Management strategies are currently being considered to address changes in lake whitefish population abundance and distribution in Lake Michigan and Green Bay. 

The Lake Whitefish population in Lake Michigan and Green Bay has changed considerably over the past 15 to 20 years. While the overall population appears to be stable, in recent years fewer young fish are returning to spawning grounds in northern Lake Michigan. In contrast, Whitefish populations in Green Bay have grown with documented recolonization of historical spawning grounds.  Whitefish have historically been primarily pursued by commercial fishers.  However, over the past decade a strong recreational fishery has also developed in Green Bay.  Currently commercial harvest in Lower Green Bay (Commercial Fishing Zone 1) is limited to about 12.5% of the overall Wisconsin harvest limit (quota).  There is now a desire by some commercial fishers to harvest more fish from Lower Green Bay due to the changes in Whitefish distribution
Results from the stakeholder meeting held in May 2016 and subsequent comments collected by the department showed the need to gather more data on whitefish populations, explore the potential for new methods to monitor harvests and find ways to improve dual use of waters where both sport and commercial fishers pursue whitefish.  To begin this effort we hosted two additional public meetings, launched an online survey, and opened a public comment period (see below).

In addition, we recently created a scope statement to allow us to begin discussions with stakeholders on possible rule changes to help us manage this important fishery. The first step in that process is to have the Natural Resources Board approve a Lake Whitefish scope statement. As part of the approval process the department is conducting a preliminary public hearing on June 11, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. to receive input from the public. Information on how to attend this virtual meeting is below, and additional details are available on the public hearings page.

The hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 11. Due to COVID-19, the public can participate in the hearing online via Skype or by calling 1-866-715-6499 and entering passcode 8227536094#. Participant pre-registration is strongly encouraged.

This preliminary hearing will allow the public to comment on the topics within the scope statement that could become the subject of future rules, including:
• A change to whitefish quotas;
• Gear used to harvest whitefish;
• Whitefish commercial fishing zones;
• Standardization of commercial harvest reporting requirements for Lake Michigan, Green Bay and Lake Superior; and
• Other management regulations.

The Natural Resources Board must approve this scope statement prior to the development of rule proposals. As such, specific rule proposals have not been developed and will not be presented at the June 11 preliminary hearing.


Public Meetings

Jan. 10 & 11, 2017 -- We hosted two public meetings to help find a balance between recreational and commercial interests and develop an appropriate management structure to address the changing Lake Michigan/Green Bay fishery.  The meetings were on Jan. 10 at the DNR Green Bay Service Center and Jan. 11 at the Door County Government Building, Sturgeon Bay.  We had attendance from stakeholders representing a variety of interests and had productive discussions of the various issues.  The entire Green Bay meeting was recorded so that stakeholders that could not attend could view this important information.

Green Bay meeting presentation [PDF]

Video recording of the Green Bay meeting 

May 12, 2016 -- A public meeting was held in Sturgeon Bay at the Door County Government Center. We received feedback and discussed whitefish management issues at this public meeting.  During this meeting a presentation was given to inform stakeholders on the current status of the whitefish population in Lake Michigan. In addition, the entire meeting was recorded so that stakeholders that could not attend could view this important information.

Sturgeon Bay meeting presentation [PDF]

Video recording of the Sturgeon Bay meeting

For more information contact:

Tom Meronek
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
110 S. Neenah Ave Sturgeon Bay, WI  54235
Phone: (920)746-2868

Last revised: Tuesday June 09 2020