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Last day for lake trout: Season closes in Apostle Islands area as quota reached

BAYFIELD, Wis. — After a slow start to the lake trout season in Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior, especially in the Apostle Islands area, fishing success exploded in July. As a result, a harvest threshold was reached by the end of July, and lake trout fishing will close in the WI-2 zone at the end of today, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials announced this past week.

Fishing will be permitted in WI-2 through 11:59 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20. That zone stretches from Bark Point to the Michigan border and includes the Apostle Islands.

Lake trout fishing in WI-1, from Superior to Bark Point, will continue through Sept. 30.

The closure is taking effect because the harvest of lake trout since last December through late July had reached a predetermined threshold of 7,350 fish out of an overall total allowable catch of 9,800, said Terry Margenau, DNR Lake Superior fisheries supervisor at Bayfield.

Under an emergency regulation adopted last December, the lake trout harvest was to be shut down in WI-2 if harvest reached 7,350 — 75 percent of the total allowable catch. Harvest figures are determined by creel surveys — angler interviews — done at boat landings throughout the year, and from monthly harvest reports filed by charter anglers.

If the quota had not been reached, the lake trout season in WI-2 would have continued through Sept. 30.

After seeking feedback last fall in public meetings and through an online survey, DNR officials established new emergency lake trout regulations for WI-2. The regulations were put in place in an effort to help the lake trout population recover, Margenau said.

The new WI-2 regulations, established in December, allowed anglers to keep two lake trout with a minimum size of 15 inches, with only one over 25 inches long.

The reason for the 7,350 trigger threshold is that harvest estimates based on creel surveys and charter fishing reports lag behind actual harvest, Margenau said. Now 20 days into August, the harvest is likely much higher than 7,350.

The lake trout harvest had been relatively low from last December through June, Margenau said.

"Starting in December, we were doing well as far as numbers," Margenau said. "There was very poor ice in the islands, and that limited the deep-water bobbing. Then we had a miserable spring with lots of rain."

Turbid waters slowed fishing as well. Through June, the lake trout harvest in WI-2 was just 3,865 fish, Margenau said.

"July was a different story," he said. "Weather was good, fish were biting and guys were getting out."

By the end of July, the harvest had reached 7,335 fish, Margenau said, near the 7,350 harvest quota that called for the season to close.

Al House, president of the Apostle Islands Sport Fishermen's Association, said anglers supported the emergency regulation chosen last fall, although they knew a pre-emptive season closure was theoretically possible.

"I think no one really realized it could happen this year," House said. "But this has been a banner year for lake trout in the Apostles. I don't blame the DNR. The DNR is between a rock and a hard place. They don't have a whole lot of choice in the matter."

Allocation of lake trout

According to the DNR, in a total allowable catch of 54,000 lake trout annually in WI-2, the Red Cliff and Bad River bands of Lake Superior Chippewa are allowed 73 percent (39,300 lake trout) of the catch for commercial or home use. Of the 27 percent allocation to the state (14,700 lake trout), sport anglers are allowed 9,800 fish and state-licensed commercial fishers are allowed 4,900 fish.

The closure will have broad implications on businesses in the Apostle Islands area, House said.

"It will affect charter fishing, retail shops, motels, gas stations — everything sport fishermen utilize when they come up here to go lake trout fishing," House said. "I think, going forward, something has to be worked out different so this doesn't happen again."

Sixteen charter captains operate in the Apostle Islands, House said. They can continue to fish for coho salmon and brown trout.

"But the coho won't show up until the second week of September, and the brown trout are spread out now and not ready for staging," House said. "Basically, for the next three weeks, the charter captains are out of luck."

"It's a very big deal, businesswise," said Carolyn Swartz of Anglers All in Ashland. "It means a loss of a certain amount of business and, obviously, to charter captains, a big loss of business. Hopefully, customers will understand they can still fish for brown trout and cohos and splake."