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The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system on the Earth's surface, home to a fragile fishery, and delicate shoreline beaches and dunes. They are also central to northern Michigan tourism, economies and our way of life.

New restrictions on commercial fishing amount to ‘extortion,’ say state lawmakers

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In a scathing letter, several Michigan legislators urged the state Department of Natural Resources to renew all commercial fishing licenses and permits from 2020.

That’s after the DNR announced new restrictions that close the fishery for part of the year and limit the depth where fishers can catch whitefish to 80 feet. “The whole industry is out of business at that 80 feet,” Dennis VanLandschoot, of VanLandschoot & Sons Fish Market in Munising, told IPR News earlier this month. “We won’t even put our boats in the water.”

These changes would not affect tribal fishers, whose fishing rights are guaranteed under federal treaty. 

State Senator Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) is troubled by the DNR’s actions.

“To rip the rug out from some of these people — it’s disingenuous on our part, and that’s just not right,” he said. 

The DNR refused to compromise on legislation that would have updated the state’s archaic fishing laws, according to VanderWall. Instead, without reaching an agreement with state lawmakers, the agency announced the new rules, he said.

The state agency did not wish to comment on VanderWall’s concerns. 

“We are doing what we believe is required under the existing law,” Jim Dexter, the DNR’s fisheries chief, told IPR News in an interview last year. 

In a legal review from 2015, the DNR found that many of the state’s commercial fishing rules weren’t legal. That’s because the DNR orders that control commercial fishing have to be more restrictive than state laws, explained Dexter. Without passing new state laws governing commercial fishing, he said the agency decided it had to implement the new restrictions. 

VanderWall said his colleagues are ready and eager to work with the DNR to hash out new legislation this year. 

“Let’s put the craziness down. Let’s get busy, let’s get it done, and let’s get to work.”