Sport fishing groups are asking for restrictions on commercial netting in Lake Michigan. Used to harvest whitefish on Lake Michigan, the trap nets off the Two Rivers, Manitowoc and Sheboygan harbors have long been a contentious issue with sport fisherman. It came to a head in June off Sheboygan when a sports fishing boat became entangled in a commercial trap net and capsized. One man drowned, two others were rescued by the Coast Guard. “When the trap nets were set in those vicinities of heavy sport fishing, it was obvious that this was going to happen,” says Chuck Weier with the Wisconsin Federation of Great Lakes Sports Fishing Clubs. “Unfortunately if nothing is done, it will happen again.”
Weier’s group and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation are among those that have petitioned the Natural Resources Board to restrict placement of the nets. Bill Horns with the Department of Natural Resources isn’t sure that there’s a solution that will make everyone happy. “It’s a very serious situation, and there are very strong feelings on both sides,” says Horns. “But if we knew a way to make everyone happy, I think it would have come up before now.” He says the agency is studying how to make sports fisherman more aware of the nets. Horns says the whitefish represents the bedrock of the commercial fishery in Lake Michigan. Most off the harvest takes place off of Door County, but there are about a half dozen commercial licenses in the Manitowoc and Sheboygan areas.