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New bill could open certain sport fish to commercial fishing

A walleye caught on the Great Lakes. (Photo: David Kenyon/Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
(Photo: David Kenyon/Michigan Department of Natural Resources)
A walleye caught on the Great Lakes. (Photo: David Kenyon/Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

A bill introduced in the Michigan Legislature last week could expand commercial fishing in state waters.

House Bill 5108 would allow commercial harvest of certain sport fish previously off-limits to commercial fishers, including species like lake trout, walleye, and yellow perch.

“Commercializing a resource held in the public trust is not something that is acceptable in our eyes,” said Justin Tomei, a policy assistant with Michigan United Conservation Clubs, which opposes the bill.

Tomei says MUCC has a number of concerns, including the commercial take of game fish, the allowance of gill nets and the right to renew commercial fishing licenses.

He says MUCC's main concern is about the potential effect on Michigan’s recreational fishing industry.

“Recreational fishing in Michigan is a $2.3 billion industry,” said Tomei. “That represents license sales, gas to travel for trips, hotels in port towns, food at the restaurants in those port towns. So the damage to those port towns could be significant if what we fear comes true and these fish are able to get caught.”

That $2.3 billion estimate comes from a 2019 study by Michigan State University and MUCC.

Supporters say the legislation would provide much-needed updates to the state’s fishing rules and help preserve a struggling commercial fishing industry. Commercial fishers have historically relied heavily on lake whitefish, a species in decline.

The bill would allow the taking of certain species and amounts of game fishes in non-tribal Great Lakes waters.

Tomei says MUCC will work with its collaborators to push for a revised version that modernizes fishing rules while still protecting recreational fisheries.

Ellie Katz joined IPR in June 2023. She reports on science, conservation and the environment.