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Ethan Petersilka landed this trophy 5.13-pound whitefish recently while jigging on the frozen waters of Green Bay off Door County.
Ethan Petersilka landed this trophy 5.13-pound whitefish recently while jigging on the frozen waters of Green Bay off Door County. / Submitted

Anglers and others interested in area fisheries have four weeks to comment on a proposed permit that would make it easier for nonprofit groups to raise and stock fish in the Great Lakes.

While the “net pen bill” was written mainly at the request of a group of Kewaunee County anglers wanting to hold salmon longer for imprinting purposes, it could also affect the “walleye wagons” and other past efforts by local fishing groups.

A public hearing will be held Friday at 1 p.m. at the DNR Service Center in Green Bay, but anglers can also comment via email through March 14.

The proposal creates a general permit to allow net pens to be placed in Lake Michigan or its tributaries to hold or raise fish for noncommercial purposes. The pens allow fish to acclimate to the lake conditions and be protected from birds and other predators.

Instead of the 48-hour limit as was previously allowed, groups that enter into a cooperative fish rearing agreement will be able to place a net pen in the Great Lakes for up to eight weeks.

In the case of salmon and some trout, net pens are also used to help the fish imprint on the particular water body to increase the return rate to that stream or harbor during spawning runs.

Kewaunee County anglers Tom Kleiman, Charlie Peterson, Brian Risinger and Brett Cook were among those present at the State Capitol in Madison in December when Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill.

“It was a great day for sportsmen, the sport fishing businesses that depend on salmon fishing and the communities that desperately need the tourism dollars that Lake Michigan fishing generates,” Kleiman said.

In the past, when not able to stock upriver due to low flows, ice or other reasons, DNR workers would dump fish directly into the harbors after a long ride from the hatchery. Cormorants, gulls and mergansers would often eat many disoriented fish, and those that weren’t eaten didn’t have a chance to imprint on the water before heading to the lake.

Even though early research estimates that at least half of the chinook salmon now in Lake Michigan are naturally produced — most of them from rivers on the Michigan side of the lake — stocking still plays an important role.

Net pens have been used for many years by some clubs on the Michigan side of the lake, and by a few groups in Wisconsin. Kewaunee sport anglers did a trial run for 48 hours with a small portion of the city’s 2013 allocation, and hope to be able to expand on that from here on out.

The DNR’s best return of chinooks is at Strawberry Creek, where young salmon are stocked and held for more than a month. It is believed that they retain an imprint of the odor of the stream they were hatched or stocked in as they migrate out, then are able to return to the same stream years later.

Studies conducted have determined that fish fed and acclimated in net pens have a better return rate compared to fish stocked directly into the river, and a far better return than those simply stocked into a harbor.

The proposed general permit and environmental assessment documents can be reviewed at: http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/fishing/lakemichigan. To submit comments, email MartinP.Griffin@wi.gov.

Ice fishing

Some big fish have been caught through the ice and weighed at Howie’s Tackle in Sturgeon Bay recently, including a 23.58-pound brown trout (Allen Schmidt), a 9.94-pound walleye (Alex Tamble) and a 5.13-pound whitefish (Ethan Petersilka).

Coming up next Saturday is the Walleyes for Tomorrow Dave Pagels Memorial Ice Derby at Wave Pointe Marina.

The payout is 10 places in walleye, perch, northern and whitefish divisions, and there will be raffles, live music, food and more.

Tournament entries are $35. Get more information by calling Dan at (920) 621-7439.

Short shots

There’s nearly 80 percent ice coverage on the Great Lakes this winter, although an expected thaw and some rain possible in the coming week might mean we’ve reached the peak.

Lake Michigan really put on ice in the past week. Track it from space at http://coastwatch.glerl.noaa.gov/webdata/cwops/html/modis/region_map.html.

• The DNR’s Deer Management Assistance Program advisory committee is meeting Friday at UW-Stevens Point to discuss program details and opportunities with conservation partners.

New for 2014, DMAP program’s goal is increased communication between landowners and wildlife and forestry professionals. Learn more at http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/wildlifehabitat/DMAP.html.

• Bird watchers can participate in the 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. Spend at least 15 minutes and enter your sightings at www.BirdCount.org.

• Candlelight ski and hike events are set for tonight from 5-8 p.m. at both Newport and Whitefish Dunes state parks.

— Kevin Naze is a freelance outdoors writer. Call him at (920) 883-9792 or email wildtimes@wizunwired.net

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