A REVIEW OF THE LAKE ERIE AND PRESQUE ISLE BAY YELLOW PERCH
SPORT ANGLING FISHERIES, 1997 2001

Roger Kenyon & Chuck Murray
Fisheries Biologists

Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
Division of Research
Lake Erie Research Unit
Box 531
Fairview, PA 16415

December 5, 2001


Introduction

Yellow perch are among the most popular sport and commercial fisheries in Lake Erie. Dramatic declines in abundance since the invasion of dreisinnid mussels have prompted more conservative harvest regulations for both the commercial and sport fisheries throughout the Lake Erie drainage. In the Pennsylvania portion of Lake Erie, gill nets have been banned for use by the commercial fisheries since 1995. Sport fishing regulations have also become more stringent. In 1996, the daily bag limit was reduced from 50 perch/day to 20 perch/day. Additionally, an eight-inch minimum size limit (MSL) was implemented to reduce exploitation and enhance spawning stock size.

Declines in yellow perch populations since the mid-1980s in Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie have been validated through various assessment programs (Figure 1). Annual gill net surveys by the Lake Erie Research Unit (LERU) provide information on the adult populations and individual year-class abundance. Supplemental trawling programs in the fall give an indication of the previous springs spawning success. Presque Isle Bay (PIB) perch populations were monitored through trap net surveys conducted every three years, and annual mid-summer beach seines.

Exploitation of perch stocks were tracked annually by monthly reports filed by the commercial fishing operations in Pennsylvania. Prior to 1996, perch harvest from the sport-fishing contingent was lacking. Comprehensive creel surveys were conducted in 1981 (Young et. al.) and 1993 (Murray et al.), but provided little insight to the annual fluctuations in harvest expected for a species of fish that exhibits such a highly variable recruitment. Based on assessment data, it was assumed that both creel surveys were conducted when perch populations were relatively low. A voluntary diary program, the Lake Erie Cooperative Angler Log (LECAL) was implemented in 1987 and provides some insight on the quality of the sport fishery on an annual basis.

1981 creel survey results showed that yellow perch was the number one species targeted by anglers fishing both the open lake waters of Lake Erie as well as the areas confined by Presque Isle. Results from the 1993 Lake Erie Creel Survey demonstrated that yellow perch remained a very popular target species, but had dropped to the third (behind walleye and steelhead trout) most frequently targeted species. In both the 1981 and the 1993 surveys, results showed that 80% of the perch harvest was from Presque Isle Bay and 20% was from open lake waters. The results of all supporting data demonstrated the need for more control of the sport harvest of perch, especially in Presque Isle Bay.

The single most important factor determining the quality of the yellow perch fishery was recruitment. Spawning success and survival of the young are critical to good year-class production. Lake Erie yellow perch abundance is highly correlated to year-class production.

Data suggests that the perch populations in open lake waters of Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay are distinct, although migration of perch in and out of Presque Isle Bay does occur. This has been validated through tagging studies conducted by the LERU in 1985-1988 when 3,643 yellow perch were captured, tagged and released back into Presque Isle Bay. Results of this survey showed that 74% of all the tag recoveries came from the bay.

Recognizing the distinct differences between the open lake stocks and the Presque Isle Bay stocks prompted the need for regulations that could provide adequate protections for the most vulnerable and highly exploited stocks. Based on the results of past and present creel surveys, exploitation of the Presque Isle Bay yellow perch stocks was much higher than open lake stocks.

One of the most notable differences seen between angler harvests in the open lake waters and Presque Isle Bay waters was the inclination of bay anglers to readily harvest small perch. Results of the 1993-1994 angler survey showed that anglers harvested perch as small as 4 inches, and considered a 6 inch perch a desirable size.

The ultimate goal of improving the local perch fishing could be achieved by reducing sport angler perch harvest by 25%-30%. As a management strategy was being developed, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) was sensitive to anglers concerns for excessively complicated and/or confusing sport fishing regulations. At the same time, PFBC law enforcement wanted to see standardized regulations for both the open lake waters and Presque Isle Bay. With these concerns in mind, the LERU recommended and the PFBC adopted a daily creel limit of 20 perch and a MSL of 8 inches. The creel limit was employed to protect stocks in both Presque Isle Bay and open lake waters from over-harvest. The 8 inch MSL was implemented to protect pre-spawning females in both areas and limit growth over-fishing of the Presque Isle Bay perch stocks thus improving the quality of the perch fishery within the bay.

Regulation Changes

The existing harvest regulations that control the conduct of the Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay yellow perch angling fisheries were instituted in 1996, in part at the urging of local sport fishing interests. For several years prior to 1996 anglers had been concerned with the deteriorating quality of the two perch fisheries.

Open Lake Waters

Since the 1980s, the PFBC has managed an agency annual TAC more conservative than that calculated by the Yellow Perch Task Group of the Lake Erie Committee (LEC). The PFBC noted that the density and abundance of perch in Pennsylvania waters was less than that of adjacent waters on which the LEC derived TAC was calculated. In other words, we felt that the Pennsylvania allotment was inflated relative to local stock size and had concerns the LEC annual quota may induce too great a mortality in our waters should local fisheries effectively pursue this TAC.

However, within recent years perch abundance and year class recruitment has increased and a less conservative agency TAC is now warranted. Annual perch catch quotas can be expected to increase accordingly. The LEC total allowable catch for 2001 allotted 200,000 pounds to Pennsylvania angling and commercial fisheries.

The sport fishing regulations of the open lake Lake Erie yellow perch stock also required attention. Since 1983 an annual catch quota (Total Allowable Catch, TAC) had been imposed upon the commercial fishery. By 1997, the commercial fishery was so constrained by changes to gear restrictions that only one fisherman was active and the TAC was essentially appropriated by the sport fishery. To restrain perch harvests in the angling fishery, in order to accommodate the TAC, a reduction in the daily creel from 50 to 20 perch was established. An 8 inch MSL was also imposed consistent with the Presque Isle Bay regulation.

Presque Isle Bay

In Presque Isle Bay perch numbers were in severe decline and the catches, particularly for the ice fishery, were composed mostly of small fish. Over-fishing of a slow growth population was the root cause of the deterioration. The solution was to drastically reduce mortality due to fishing and conserve the greater portion of the virgin female, first-year spawning stock. The enactment of a daily creel limit of 20 and a MSL of 8 inches was intended to attain these two objectives.

One of the recommendations in the 1993 Yellow Perch Angling Survey was to assess any changes in the sport fishery as a result of regulation changes through creel surveys. This report serves as an update on the effectiveness of changes in the yellow perch sport fishing regulations.

Materials and Methods

Open Lake:

Assessment

Yellow perch population assessment for open lake stocks is conducted annually by the LERU. These standardized programs have been developed specifically for yellow perch, and are used by all state and provincial agencies operating on Lake Erie. These assessment programs consist of spring and fall gill net assessment using standardized monofilament gill nets ranging in mesh size from 1.75 inches through 6 inches in inch increments. This assessment provides information on yearling and older age classes. The LERU also conducts annual fall trawling exercises, which gives good estimates of previous spring spawning success (YOY index).

Creel Surveys

Comprehensive creel surveys for the Lake Erie fisheries were conducted in 1981 and 1993. These surveys provided information on the open lake waters of Lake Erie as well as Presque Isle Bay, and the Pennsylvania tributaries to Lake Erie. In 1996 the LERU initiated the Lake Erie Boat Angler Survey (LEBAS), an annual survey to estimate the harvest of open lake stocks of yellow perch and walleye. The open Lake Boat angler survey is conducted as an exit survey at four popular boat landing/marinas (Walnut Creek Access Area, Lampe Marina, East Ave. Boat Launch and North East Access Area). The observed rate per hour at which fishery attributes (boats, anglers, fish) were leaving the lake was used in a stratified sample design to estimate total angler use, perch catch and harvest.

A bus route design was employed to estimate the effort, catch and harvest of walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch on the open lake. Based on the 1993 Lake Erie Angler Survey, the majority of the open lake angling activity was concentrated at four public launch sites: Walnut Creek Access Area; North East Access Area; Lampe Marina, and East Avenue boat launch. In 1999, Chestnut Street Boat Launch was added as an additional site to provide insight to the Presque Isle Bay yellow perch fishery. Chestnut Street Boat Launch was not used in the lakewide expansion estimates because renovations that were completed after the 1993-1994 Angler Use and Harvest study would probably underestimate the proportional use at this site relative to recent history.

The relative survey intensity at each site was weighted based on anticipated use at these sites. The day type stratification had creel clerks afield two randomly selected weekday days and one randomly selected weekend day each week. Holidays, if occurring on a weekday, were randomly chosen by computer generation and considered weekend day types. A time of day stratification was used; each day was divided into two sampling periods of 7.5 hours each, one early (7:00) and one late (14:30), so that all daylight hours were surveyed. The night fishery was not sampled.

The LEBAS surveys began May 1 and were completed on October 31. A route was constructed containing five (Walnut Creek Access Area, Chestnut Street Boat Launch, Lampe Marina, East Avenue Boat Launch and North East Access Area) heavily used boat angler launch facilities. Routes were followed progressively in a "circular" manner. By this design, a creel clerk was randomly assigned, without replacement, a starting point on the route each survey day. Because of the randomization of the survey design, data obtained by the creel clerks was expected to reflect angling activity throughout all times of the daylight angling day.

First priority for a clerk on-site was angler counts. Boat counts were tallied as a boat crossed the shore/water interface. Exiting and entering boats were counted. This provided an independent estimate of precision (launching boats should equal landing boats). As boats entered or exited the water, they were characterized as angling or non-angling, based on responses by people on board.

Second priority for clerks on site was angler interviews. Data was obtained from all cooperative anglers, as time would allow. A variety of information was solicited from interviews including: number of rods fished, group size, amount of time spent fishing, species sought (up to 3), the number of species caught and harvested, if the trip had been chartered and the geographic area (east, west or PIB) of species targeted, caught and harvested. If time was available, clerks were responsible for collecting length measurements and scales from creeled fish. These biological measurements were used to construct length frequencies, and age composition of the harvest. In 1999, scales were collected from walleye only.

For the purposes of the open lake analysis, statistics of interest were sometimes separated by basin (central v. eastern) to better describe the use, catch and harvest of open lake fish stocks. The effort, catch and harvest estimates for yellow perch, walleye, smallmouth bass and steelhead trout were expanded from estimates derived from LEBAS sites to lakewide estimates (PA waters) based on the proportion that these sites represented relative to all sites surveyed during the expansive 1993 Lake Erie Angler Survey.

Since 1987, the Lake Erie Cooperative Angler Log (LECAL) program has collected data on the major species targeted, caught and harvested in Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay, and tributaries to Lake Erie. The LERU distributes pre-printed fishing diaries to volunteer anglers who are asked to keep accurate records of their fishing activity in Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay, and the tributaries to Lake Erie. Officially recognized charter captains and fishing guides operating in Pennsylvania waters of the Lake Erie drainage are also required to participate.

This information presently provides the best historical assessment of sport fishing in Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie. Anglers are required to minimally record the amount of time they fished, the species that they targeted, where they fished, the type of fishing they did (boat, shore, ice, pier), what species they caught and what species they kept. This information is used to calculate relative use, catch rate and harvest rate. Optional information is sometimes included, such as length and weight of fish that they harvest, incidence of lamprey wounding and information on tagged or clipped fish.

As with any diary program, the data should be analyzed and interpreted with appropriate caution. There are inherent biases, such as a tendency to provide incomplete trip, catch and harvest information. Additionally, the participants tend to be specialists (avid anglers and charter captains), thus increasing the catch rate over the general angling population.

Presque Isle Bay:

Assessment

Area Fisheries Manager 1 undertook assessment of Presque Isle Bay fish stocks every three years. Typical assessment consists of a series of trap nets, which are set for a variety of species. Each year, summer beach seining was conducted to give an indication of young of the year yellow perch production.

To supplement the data collected by AFM1, LERU collected yellow perch that were captured in trap nets that were set by the PFBC Fairview Fish Culture Station each spring used to collect northern pike brood stock. Any perch that were caught during various other Presque Isle Bay fish surveys were retained for biological assessment by the LERU. These collections were used to evaluate the growth of Presque Isle Bay yellow Perch.

Creel Surveys

Ice Angler Surveys

Presque Isle Bay ice fishing surveys were conducted as part of both the 1981 and 1994 comprehensive Lake Erie angler surveys and provided baseline information for Presque Isle Bay ice fishing surveys conducted subsequent to the 1996 regulations changes. The LERU conducted Ice Angler creel surveys on Presque Isle Bay from 1997 through 2001. In 1998, warm weather prevented ice formation on the bay and no survey was conducted. This survey used instantaneous area angler counts to estimate use and on the ice interviews to determine angler catch and harvest per hour of perch.

Summer Boat Fishery

A popular boat-launching site (Chestnut Street Boat Launch) that provides access directly into Presque Isle Bay was added to the annual LEBAS in 1999 to provide some additional information on the Presque Isle Bay yellow perch fishery during the summer. The LECAL has also provided some insight to the Presque Isle Bay yellow perch fishery. The details of the program are discussed above.

Results

Open Lake Erie Yellow Perch Fishery:

Open Lake Assessment Data

Assessment data indicates that yellow perch abundance is very much reduced from the 1980s (Figure 1). Dramatic ecological changes in Lake Erie since the invasion of zebra and quagga mussels will probably limit perch production well below historic levels. Recent observation of round goby infestation in local Pennsylvania waters may exacerbate this phenomenon (Lake Erie Research Unit 2001).

Recent assessment data shows that there were moderately good hatch and survival of the 1994, 1996 and 1998 year classes (Figure 2). These year-classes have also been well represented in the sport angler harvests. Fall trawl assessment in 2001 have suggested that the 2001 yellow perch hatch is good.

Annual estimates of Lake Erie perch stock size (age 2 and older in Pennsylvania waters) have averaged 1.2 million fish during the period of 1996-2000. Average number of perch landed by the angling fishery for the same period was 50,170, which indicates that a low rate exploitation, 4-5%, is imposed upon the Lake Erie perch population.

Growth and maturity:

Lake Erie female yellow perch sexually mature during their third and fourth years, age 2 and 3 (Table 1 ). However, most Lake Erie females will be virgin spawners at age 3. The mean length of Lake Erie females at this time is 7.1 and 8.3 inches (Table 1. ). In general, Lake Erie female perch will sustain a higher fecundity than those of the Presque Isle Bay population because of the differences in length at age. This implies too, that the potential annual egg deposition per female for the Lake Erie population will be significantly greater than that for Presque Isle Bay.

Open Lake Creel Survey Results

The open lake yellow perch fishery has demonstrated excellent recovery from what was seen in the early and mid 1990s. Results from the LECAL show a drop in the number of anglers targeting perch coinciding with a decreased catch rate in the early 1990s (Figure 3). As the fishery recovered, and catch rates improved, effort increased. Results from the LEBAS estimated that angler effort has increased almost 100% from the average of the last five years and would have probably surpassed walleye angler effort if the creel limit had not been changed in 1996. Poor weather (rough lake conditions) in October basically shut the perch fishery down in 2001, as no recorded effort was seen during the 2001 LEBAS in October (Figure 4). As the quality of the fishery improves, it is anticipated that effort and exploitation will increase proportionally.

Most (40%) perch anglers quit fishing only because they had attained the daily creel limit (Figure 5). Average trip length for anglers that targeted yellow perch was 3.7 hours and for anglers targeting walleye was 5.1 hours. Mean trip length for all boat anglers was 4.2 hours.

Yellow perch catch and harvest has increased over 300% from the 1996-2000 average (Figure 6). The excellent yellow perch fishery in 2000 got even better in 2001 as harvest increased nearly 100%. A review of the creel rate (% of perch caught that was harvested) shows that creel rate was as low as 66% in 1999 and 2000 (Table 3). In 1999 and 2000 anglers threw back approximately 1/3 of the perch that they caught.

Although culling probably accounted for some of this discard, most of these perch were thrown back because they were under the eight-inch MSL. Creel rate had improved to 82% in 2001. Data shows that most of the perch that were harvested in 2000 and 2001 were less than 10 inches (Figure 7), so culling doesnt appear to be a major problem although it certainly does exist.

Presque Isle Bay Yellow Perch Fishery:

Assessment Data

Assessment data collected by AFM1 showed an excellent perch hatch in 1993 and moderately good hatches in 1996-1998 (Figure 8).

Generally, yellow perch growth in Lake Erie is considerably faster than perch in Presque Isle Bay (Table 1). And because female perch growth is faster than male growth, female perch presumably suffer a greater mortality due to fishing because of the MSL. Presque Isle Bay perch will attain full maturity over an extended period of age because of their slower growth rates.

We do not have comparable estimates of the Presque Isle Bay perch population size. However, tag and recapture study of the Bay perch fishery during the 1980s suggests much higher rates of exploitation exist for the Bay perch than for Lake Erie. These ranged from 10% to 51%. These values are not surprising since much of the fishery is conducted during ice cover and is considered to be an intensive application of fishing effort. More recent estimates based upon assessment data from the 1997-2000 period show that as many as 60% of the Bay perch are annually taken by fishing.

The numbers of perch harvested annually have been estimated between 1,700 and 18,700 during the 1997-2001 ice fisheries. The rate at which Presque Isle Bay perch are removed is an explanation of the depressed abundance of the Bay yellow perch population. These figures are representative for years when there is an ice fishery. Exploitation rates are less during years when insufficient ice cover is formed.

Presque Isle Bay Creel Survey Results

The Presque Isle Bay yellow perch fishery has also recovered well over the last three years. Catch rates have steadily increased since 1997 (Figure 9). In 1994, it was estimated that ice anglers caught 28,000 perch and harvested 17,800 perch (Figure 10). In 2001, ice anglers caught an estimated 123,500 perch and harvested 18,700 perch. As these numbers demonstrate, perch catch from the ice fishery has increased dramatically since 1994. Harvest (in numbers) has returned to levels seen during the 1994 Ice angler survey. If the harvest is measured in terms of biomass (weight) the harvest has improved noticeably from estimates derived from the 1994 survey. Total harvest (in pounds) of yellow perch during the 1994 ice survey estimated that anglers harvested 4,150 pounds of perch, and in 2001 anglers harvested an estimated 8,300 pounds of perch, a 100% increase in terms of poundage. From this standpoint, the quality of the perch fishery has substantially improved.

The creel rate has for yellow perch has been consistently low since the 8 inch MSL was instituted. Anglers harvested as few as 7% of the perch they caught in 1997 and harvested as high as 19% of the perch they caught in 1999. During the 2001 ice fishery, anglers harvested about 15% of the perch that they caught.

During the 1994 angler survey, about 65% of the yellow perch harvest was less than 8 inches. Harvest of undersized fish still occurred after the 8 inch MSL was implemented; in 1997 approximately 33% of the perch harvested were less than 8 inches; in 2001 as the quality of the perch fishery improved, harvest of perch under 8 inches fell to 3% and the harvest of quality size perch (10+ inches) represented over 40% of the harvest (Figure 11).

Age distribution of the yellow perch harvest in Presque Isle Bay had also shifted to older fish as the quality of the fishery improved (Figure 12). In 1994, approximately 1/3 of the perch harvest was less than age four. After the regulation changes in 1996, exploitation of young perch (age 3) declined; few perch less than age four were harvested, and the older age groups were well represented. In 2001, perch as old as age 13 were present in the fishery, with perch age 8 and older representing about 1/3 of the harvest.

Chestnut Street Boat Launch was added to the annual LEBAS to give some indication of the summer perch fishery in Presque Isle Bay. Estimates of directed effort, catch and harvest by boat anglers landing at Chestnut Street are provided in Figure 13. These numbers only provide a very small sample of the total effort, catch and harvest, but do provide some insight to the summer Presque Isle Bay perch fishery. The creel rate by boat anglers fishing in the bay as seen through the annual Lake Erie Boat Angler Survey is not nearly as low as has been seen in the Presque Isle Bay ice angler surveys. During the 1999 and 2000 LEBAS, anglers fishing Presque Isle Bay harvested about 45% of the perch that they caught. During the 2001 LEBAS boat anglers harvested only 22% of the perch that they caught. The presence of moderately good 1997 and 1998 year-classes that had not recruited into the 8 inch MSL probably accounted for the majority of the pre-recruit catch.

Discussion

Open Lake Erie Yellow Perch Fishery:

Since 1982, the PFBC sought to restrain the mortality due to commercial and angler fishing of yellow perch to avoid the short-term effects of over-exploitation of the stock. An annual quota was initially levied on the commercial fishery followed by the implementation of an MSL of 8.5 inches to confine the yield to that element of the perch stock that was fully mature and had the opportunity to have spawned at least once. Not until the PFBC had a measure of the angling annual harvest was it possible to also implement similar regulations to account for and restrain that component of the perch harvest. We have had accountability since 1996 for both fisheries relative to the annual harvest quota, the Total Allowable Catch. For the angling fishery, the restraint upon harvest has been achieved with daily possession limits of 20 fish and an MSL of 8.0 inches.

Although a portion of the Lake Erie perch TAC is still taken by the one active commercial fishermen, the total annual perch harvest is dominated by the angling fishery (Table 2). Under usual circumstances and past practice, the annual perch TAC can be accommodated with existing controls of the fishery.

The open lake yellow perch fishery has demonstrated excellent recovery from what was seen in the early 1990s . Harvest in 2001 had increased 352 % over the previous five-year (1996-2000) average. The 20 perch daily creel limit has been the primary measure in controlling excessive harvest in one of the best perch fishing seasons in nearly 2 decades. Many of the anglers targeting yellow perch attained the creel limit of 20 fish. A comparatively short trip duration (3.7 hours) during the 2001 shows that anglers were catching their limit of perch in a relatively small amount of time and headed back to shore.

The primary reason for the excellent perch fishing over the last three years can be attributed to good to moderate year-class production in 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1998. More conservative harvest regulations on both the sport and commercial fisheries have restrained the harvest and should provide a more sustainable fishery over an extended period of time.

There have been reports of significant perch mortality of resulting from catch and mandated release of fish under the eight-inch MSL. Undersized perch were released alive but were unable to recover from the effects of being rapidly retrieved from deeper water. Undersized fish usually appear in angler catches in years when a large year class first recruits to the fishery. Culling of angler catches can also occur even when most of the catch exceeds the MSL. Some anglers were selecting only the larger (10 +) perch to fill out their daily limit.

Appearance of a strong year-class that has not yet fully recruited into the eight-inch MSL can induce unnecessary mortality. Estimates derived from the 1999 and 2000 LEBAS revealed that anglers harvested only 67% of the yellow perch that were caught. Undoubtedly, many of the perch that were released were less than eight-inches. If there was no MSL, and some of the undersized (<8) perch were creeled, mortality could be further reduced. To make this effective the elimination of the MSL must be accompanied by an understanding by anglers that only a minimum of culling of their catches is expected. This is a conservation measure that will relieve the pressure of excessive fishing mortality in the absence of an MSL, especially of immature female perch.

The protection needed to restrain the fisheries harvest at or below TAC levels will be retained with a daily limit of 20 perch. In 2001, estimated landings will be less than 100,000 pounds, 97 percent taken by anglers. Forty percent of perch anglers attained their daily possession limit of 20 perch and this percentage will be higher in the next few years as perch abundance increases.

Total estimated harvest of yellow perch in pounds was 96,586 pounds, approximately 48% of the TAC allocated to Pennsylvania through the LEC. If the fishery was not inhibited by bad weather in October, the estimated harvest would have been even greater. This is an unprecedented harvest relative to recent history. Because data was lacking for sport angler perch harvest prior to 1996, it is not known if the sport fishery harvest had ever had this impact on the LEC-TAC perch quotas.

If the creel limit had not been reduced from 50 perch/day to 20 perch/day the LEC-TAC would probably have been exceeded (Figure 14). From an interagency management (Lake Erie Committee) standpoint, exceeding the allotted quota is a serious problem and could prompt emergency action through the PFBC Executive Director. As is typical of sport fisheries, exploitation can be exceedingly high when perch are abundant and fishing is good. The recent improvement in the perch fishery over the last two years has resulted in increases in angler effort of 100% and harvests increasing over 300% since 1999. If the trend of increasing angler effort and perch harvest continues, it is feasible that the LEC-TAC could be exceeded. Retaining the 20-perch/day creel limit is the best control mechanism of remaining below the TAC, and at the same time providing a stabilizing influence on open lake stocks of perch.

Presque Isle Bay Yellow Perch Fishery:

Because of the potential for high harvest rates during years of prolonged ice cover, there will always be the opportunity for high fishing mortality. The daily limit of 20 fish will curtail the kill and conserve some of the stock to maintain recruitment.

The greatest concentration of angler effort, catch and harvest of yellow perch takes place in Presque Isle Bay. Creel surveys in 1981 and 1993 estimated that approximately 87% of the total perch catch takes place in Presque Isle Bay, and about half of that takes place during ice cover. Controlling over-exploitation of perch stocks in Presque Isle Bay, especially during the ice fishery was paramount to reversing the trend of a declining perch fishery.

Creel survey results show that the Presque Isle Bay yellow perch fishery has rebounded well over the last three years. The ice angler surveys over the last five years revealed that perch fishing has gone from bad to good. Again, good survival of the 1993, 1996, 1997 and 1998 year-classes have provided a boost to a depressed population. The harvest (in numbers) during the 2001 Ice angler Survey has returned to levels previously seen only before the regulation change of 1996.

The eight-inch MSL has been the controlling force in limiting perch harvest in Presque Isle Bay. The creel rate has remained relatively low since implementation of the eight- inch MSL. Prior to the MSL change, the creel rate was between 65%-75%. Since the eight- inch MSL was enacted, the creel rate has been as low as 7% in 1997, and reached a high of 19% in 1999. It dropped to 9% in 2000, but improved to 15% in 2001. The drop in the creel rate during the 2000 ice fishery is probably a factor of good year-class production in 1996-1998. As these perch recruit into the fishery, the creel rate can be expected to increase.

The creel rate by boat anglers fishing in the bay as seen through the annual Lake Erie Boat Angler Survey is not nearly as low as has been seen in the Presque Isle Bay ice angler surveys. During the 2000 LEBAS, anglers fishing Presque Isle Bay harvested 48% of the perch that they caught. Many of these perch were probably a product of a good 1993 year-class. Results from the 2001 LEBAS show that the creel rate dropped to 20%, probably due to the presence of a good pre-recruit 1998 year-class in the fishery.

Rules that mediate the angling perch fishery of Presque Isle Bay should remain identical to those of Lake Erie for effective enforcement on the two adjacent, connected bodies of water. Implementing a seasonal MSL of seven-inches from January 1 until the 1st Saturday in May (coinciding with the opening of walleye season) will reduce open lake mortality of undersized caught and released perch and still provide adequate protection to virgin female perch in Presque Isle Bay.

It is not necessary here to furnish an exhaustive treatment of perch growth for the two areas, but it is necessary to recognize the distinctions are significant and are population and habitat related. There are biological distinctions of growth and fishing mortality that clearly reveals Lake Erie regulations cannot be in complete conformity with the Bay perch regulations. The relatively slow growth and protracted maturity of Bay perch has caused review of the effectiveness of the present MSL of eight inches. Ninety-eight per cent of Presque Isle Bay spring female perch have attained maturity by age 3 and 4; these respective lengths are 5.9 and 7.0 inches (Table 1.). The perch MSL could be lowered to 7 inches and still afford similar protection of virgin females. The high catch-release rate of perch (Table 3.) is cause for complaint and concern by the anglers. There are some losses due to hooking mortality and reducing the MSL could alleviate some of this. Based on survey data prior to the implementation of the 8-inch MSL, most anglers would keep the smaller perch (7 inches) usually subject to mortality at release.

In 1996 it was the intent of the PFBC to promulgate regulation of the Presque Isle Bay fishery that would reduce the high fishing mortality rate of the perch population. This, along with protection of immature female fish eventually will enhance reproduction and recruitment of fish to the fishable population.

Conclusions

  1. The perch fishery has exhibited excellent recovery over the last two years. The primary reason is good year-class production during the mid and late 1990s. Greater stability in perch populations and the fishery can be realized with appropriate regulation of future harvest rates.
     

  2. The 8-inch minimum size limit has been responsible for some unnecessary mortality of open lake stocks of yellow perch by boat anglers. Elimination of the MSL during the summer boat fishery will allow anglers to allocate a greater percentage of their catch to their daily creel, thus reducing total fishing mortality.
     

  3. Presque Isle Bay ice anglers have been able to harvest only a small portion of their total perch catch since the 8-inch MSL was implemented. In the presence of a strong pre-recruit year-class, anglers readily harvested perch less than 8 inches. As the quality of the fishery improved, anglers harvested fewer sub-legal perch. A decrease in the MSL to 7-inches will still provide adequate protection to virgin female perch and, to some extent mitigate the effects of growth over-fishing that was evident prior to the implementation of the 8-inch MSL.
     

  4. The 20 perch per day creel limit has been very effective in controlling harvest. During the 2001 angling season, a large portion of the perch anglers attained the 20 perch per day bag limit. The retention of this conservative bag limit will allow for greater stability in local perch stocks, while providing insurance that the LEC-TAC will not be exceeded as the quality of the perch fishery is enhanced, stimulating even more targeted effort and perch harvest.

Recommendations

  1. Retain the 20 yellow perch per day creel limit to provide stability to the perch populations in open lake waters and Presque Isle Bay and preclude the sport fishery from exceeding the LEC-TAC on open Lake Erie waters.
     

  2. Establish the MSL for yellow perch at 7-inches from January 1 1st Saturday in May. This seasonal MSL will provide protection to bay perch subject to growth over-fishing during the ice fishery, while allowing anglers fishing the open lake waters during the summer the opportunity to count all perch caught against the daily creel limit thus reducing unnecessary mortality.

Acknowledgements

The authors of this report would like to acknowledge the creel clerks ( Mark Lethaby, Jon Carey, Rick Weber, Mike Hinkel, Angela Kirsch, Kristen Kufner, Greg Galliard, Dan Tollini and Jeremy Jamieson). Area Fisheries Management Team 1 (Craig Billingsley and Freeman Johns), PFBC Fairview Fish Culture Staff, the SONS of Lake Erie, The LECAL Participants and the anglers of Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay.

References

Billingsley, Craig W. and Freeman A. Johns. 2000. Presque Isle Bay Management Report. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Bureau of Fisheries, Division of Fisheries Management.

Lake Erie Research Unit. 2001. Lake Erie Status and Trends Report. Report to the Lake Erie Committee. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Division of Research, Lake Erie Research Unit, Fairview, Pennsylvania.

Murray, Charles. K., Roger B. Kenyon and Rickalon Hoopes. 1995. Lake Erie Yellow Perch Fishing. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Division of Research, Lake Erie Research Unit.

Tables

Table 1. Female yellow perch maturity schedules

LAKE ERIE, Fall   Spring
mean TL mean TL
Age % mature mm in   Age % mature mm in
1 35.7 139 5.5   1 0 141 5.6
2 62.5 173 6.8   2 33.3 148 5.8
3 92.5 211 8.3   3 100 180 7.1
4 100 232 9.1   4 100 226 8.9
5 100 246 9.7   5 100 227 8.9
6 100 269 10.6   6 100 246 9.7
7 100 273 10.7   7 100 262 10.3
8 100 284 11.2   8 100 285 11.2
9 100 295 11.6   9 100 303 11.9
10 100 283 11.1   10 100 305 12.0
11 100 325 12.8   11 100 313 12.3
12 100 311 12.2   12 100 306 12.0
13 100 326 12.8   13 100 316 12.4
14 100 317 12.5          

 

P. I. BAY, Spring    
     mean TL
Age % mature mm in
1 - - -
2 50 142 5.6
3 97.7 151 5.9
4 98.4 178 7.0
5 99 191 7.5
6 100 220 8.7
7 100 255 10.0
8 100 286 11.3
9 100 306 12.0
10 100 333 13.1

 

Table 2.

LAKE ERIE YELLOW PERCH ANNUAL LANDINGS AND TAC'S
  Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie
  (values in pounds)
Year Commercial   Angling Total TAC1/
1996 5,340   10,837 16,177 49,000
1997 7,398   19,336 26,734 63,000
1998 5,281   24,070 29,351 70,000
1999 2,905   26,730 29,653 85,000
2000 5,950   44,836 50,786 70,000
2001 2,066   96,586 98,652 43,500
1/ both fisheries

 

Table 3.

ESTIMATED ANGLING CATCH AND HARVEST OF YELLOW PERCH
  Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie
  (values are numbers of fish)
Year Catch Harvest Creel Rate*
1996 23,504 18,491 78%
1997 36,441 41,408 74%
1998 42,299 36,953 87%
1999 63,368 41,108 66%
2000 169,824 112,903 66%
2001 271,061 222,006 82%
* Percentage of perch catch that was harvested

 

Table 4.

  State and Provincial Angler Fishing Regulations, Lake Erie
    As of 2000      
  Michigan Ohio * Pennsylvania ** New York Ontario
Minimum Size Limit 0 0 8 0 0
Daily Possession Limit 50 30 20 50 25 1
           
  * Sandusky Bay, same as Lake Erie
  ** Presque Isle Bay and peninsular waters included
  1 Eastern Lake Erie only, except 50 in Long Point Bay

  Figures

Figure 1: Yellow Perch indices of abundance for age 2 and older fall stock 1985-1999.

Figure 1: Yellow perch indices of abundance for age 2 and older fall stock 1985-1999. 

 

Figure 2: Yellow perch fall trawl indices for young of the year (YOY) and yearling age groups.

Figure 2: Yellow perch fall trawl indices for young of the year (YOY) and yearling age groups. 

 

Figure 3: Catch rates (catch per line hour) of yellow perch by boat anglers participating in the Lake Erie Cooperative Angler Log 1988-2000.

Figure 3: Catch rates (catch per line hour) of yellow perch by boat anglers participating in the Lake Erie Cooperative Angler Log 1988-2000. 

 

Figure 4: Monthly angler effort (hours), catch and harvest of yellow perch for the 2001 Lake Erie Boat Angler Survey.

Figure 4: Monthly angler effort (hours), catch and harvest of yellow perch for the 2001 Lake Erie Boat Angler Survey. 

 

Figure 5: Open Lake Erie yellow perch harvest/angler distribution with the daily limit of 20 in place.

Figure 5: Open Lake Erie yellow perch harvest/angler distribution with the daily limit of 20 in place. 

 

Figure 6: Total effort (angler hours), catch and harvest for the Lake Erie Boat Angler Survey 1997-2001.

Figure 6: Total effort (angler hours), catch and harvest for the Lake Erie Boat Angler Survey 1997-2001. 

 

Figure 7: Length frequency of yellow perch harvested during the 2000 Lake Erie Boat Angler Surveys.

Figure 7: Length frequency of yellow perch harvested during the 2001 Lake Erie Boat Angler Surveys.

Figure 7: Length frequency of yellow perch harvested during the 2000 and 2001 Lake Erie Boat Angler Surveys. 

 

Figure 8: Summer seine catch of young-of-year yellow perch in Presque Isle Bay 1990-2000.

Figure 8: Summer seine catch of young-of-year yellow perch in Presque Isle Bay 1990-2000. 

 

Figure 9: Yellow perch catch rate (catch per angler hour) from the Preque Isle Ice Angler Surveys 1997-2001.

Figure 9: Yellow perch catch rate (catch per angler hour) from the Preque Isle Ice Angler Surveys 1997-2001. 

 

Figure 10: Estimated catch and harvest of yellow perch during the 1981, 1993 and 1997-2001 Presque Isle Bay Ice Angler Surveys.

Figure 10: Estimated catch and harvest of yellow perch during the 1981, 1993 and 1997-2001 Presque Isle Bay Ice AnglerSurveys. 

 

Figure 11: Length frequency of the yellow perch harvested during the 1994 Presque Isle Bay Ice Fishing Survey.

Figure 11: Length frequency of the yellow perch harvested during the 1997 Presque Isle Bay Ice Fishing Survey.

Figure 11: Length frequency of the yellow perch harvested during the 2001 Presque Isle Bay Ice Fishing Survey.

Figure 11: Length frequency of the yellow perch harvested during the 1994, 1997 and 2001 Presque Isle Bay Ice Fishing Survey. 

 

Figure 12: Age frequency of the yellow perch harvest for the 1994 Presque Isle Bay Ice Angler Survey.

Figure 12: Age frequency of the yellow perch harvest for the 1997 Presque Isle Bay Ice Angler Survey.

Figure 12: Age frequency of the yellow perch harvest for the 2001 Presque Isle Bay Ice Angler Survey.

Figure 12: Age frequency of the yellow perch harvest for the 1994, 1997 and 2001 Presque Isle Bay Ice Angler Surveys. 

 

Figure 13: Estimated yellow perch angler effort, catch and harvest in Preque Isle Bay by anglers landing at Chestnut Street Boat Launch.

Figure 13: Estimated yellow perch angler effort, catch and harvest in Preque Isle Bay by anglers landing at Chestnut Street Boat Launch. 

 

Figure 14: Projected harvest of yellow perch in 2001 under alternate creel limits.

Figure 14: Projected harvest of yellow perch in 2001 under alternate creel limits.


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