Proposed changes to Lake Oahe walleye regulationsFor many sportsmen, October is a month of seemingly endless hunting opportunities. Deer, antelope, grouse and duck seasons are underway and the pheasant season kicks off soon.October also marks the month when GF&P staff recommends fishing rule changes to our Commission. The Commissioners then have an opportunity to review, edit and propose these changes if they see value in the staff recommendations.
By: Chris Longhenry, S.D. Game, Fish & Parks
For many sportsmen, October is a month of seemingly endless hunting opportunities. Deer, antelope, grouse and duck seasons are underway and the pheasant season kicks off soon. October also marks the month when GF&P staff recommends fishing rule changes to our Commission. The Commissioners then have an opportunity to review, edit and propose these changes if they see value in the staff recommendations. After the Commission proposes these rule changes, the public is encouraged to provide written comments or personal testimony at the November 1st Commission meeting.
This year, the Commission proposed a number of fisheries regulation modifications, with the most prominent proposal aimed at changing walleye regulations on Lake Oahe. The Commission proposed an increase in the daily bag limit to eight walleye per day, of which, only four can be 15 inches or longer. Also, the one-over-20 inch regulation will be removed allowing anglers to keep up to four walleye longer than 20 inches. The last change for Oahe is a proposed three-day possession limit, which means anglers would be able to possess 24 walleyes from Lake Oahe after three days of fishing.
GF&P fisheries staff recommended these changes for Lake Oahe in response to the effects of last year’s flooding. The record releases flushed a large number of rainbow smelt out of the lake. Rainbow smelt are the primary prey fish for Lake Oahe walleye and decreased smelt abundance has resulted in an imbalance between smelt and walleye. The larger walleye have shown a sharp decrease in condition, or plumpness, due to the relative lack of food. Additionally, highly abundant smaller walleye (less than 15 inches) are also showing a decrease in condition.
A similar event occurred in the late ’90s when high walleye abundance combined with low smelt abundance, resulted in skinny walleye. Fisheries staff realized an imbalance between smelt and walleye existed and recommended a rule change to allow increased harvest (bag limit of 14 walleye) to reduce walleye abundance, in an attempt to make it easier for smelt abundance to increase. While walleye harvest did increase following this rule change, natural mortality had a greater effect on lowering walleye abundance. The smelt population rebounded a few years later and the walleye population soon followed.
Identifying key aspects of the Lake Oahe walleye fishery from the last prey fish shortage helped guide fisheries staff to generate current regulation change recommendations. These changes are a way to provide extra opportunity for anglers to take advantage of large, young year-classes and providing opportunities to harvest more walleye that may be lost due to higher than normal natural mortality in the near future. Some of the larger walleyes will likely start dying from starvation and this regulation will allow anglers to harvest some of those fish before they are lost. The increased bag limit will allow increased harvest of young, abundant walleye that will likely make up the bulk of the catch in 2013. The increased possession limit is aimed at providing the weekend anglers the ability to harvest and transport 24 walleye. Currently, with a four-fish daily limit, many weekend anglers (three-day anglers) are able to consume part of their harvest during their trip, allowing for additional harvest on their third angling day. Increasing the possession limit will allow the increased harvest to take place without the need to consume large quantities of walleye during a trip.
It is crucial to understand that these regulations are not an attempt to “fix” the unbalanced predator/prey ratio; it is simply an attempt to utilize an abundant resource without doing any harm to the resource. Thus, the public input process is vital in determining the acceptance of these recommended rule changes by anglers throughout South Dakota. Interested persons will be given reasonable opportunity to submit data, opinions, arguments and their views on the proposed changes, either orally or in writing (or both) at the November 1 Commission meeting to be held at Camp Lakodia, near Madison.