I found last Thursday evening's public hearing on the proposed 25-fish limit per day for crappies and bluegills both interesting and educational. Hosted by the Department of Natural Resources at the Dickinson County Community Building, 20 of us came to voice our opinions about the proposed daily limit.
Marion Conover, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Bureau, acted as moderator, while Jim Wahl, Northwest Regional Fisheries Supervisor and Mike Hawkins, Fisheries Biologist took notes on what each of us had to say.
What really became apparent was the concern all of us had for both the fish and the fisheries. I've seen these public hearings get pretty loud, but even though there were differing opinions, there was respect for those views and the people that expressed them.
According to Conover, all of the comments from the hearing in Spirit Lake will be added to the comments from the other sites across the state, organized and given to the commissioners in preparation for their November meeting. At that time, they will take everything under consideration and then make their decision on whether to establish a daily limit or to leave it as it currently is: no daily limit.
As people gave their statements, it became clear that a main reason for the push has to do with watching anglers take 5-gallon buckets full of bluegills and/or crappies off the lake. So, as Conover noted, "The proposal is not of a biological necessity. It's not going to make the fishery better or worse. To a lot of people it's about bringing a value and respect to the crappies and bluegills."
Although the responses at the Spirit Lake hearing were for the most part for making the regulation, there have been differing opinions at other hearings across the state. In southern Iowa, especially, people will catch and keep one heck of a lot of bluegills.
Conover did say that the DNR did a phone survey of 1,647 Iowa anglers this past year asking, "Do you believe an angler should be allowed to take an unlimited number of crappies and bluegills?" A total of 65 percent said no, while 35 percent said yes.
Although the proposed regulation was initiated here in the Iowa Great Lakes, it now reads as a statewide 25-fish daily limit.
"I really feel it is important to keep our regulations simple. By doing this statewide, we can simplify our regulations, and we felt it would have a better chance of passing if it were a statewide proposal," said Conover.
Conover also said the fisheries biologists across the state are divided on the issue with some seeing the need for the regulation, while others see no need. However, he did say that they would support which ever way the vote goes.
One point of great interest for me was what Wahl and Hawkins said about what really drives a fishery. It all comes down to recruitment. In other words, what it takes to bring a year-class of fish to a catchable adult size.
It all comes down to three things: water quality, habitat and food. Having a daily limit will not ensure good fishing. Recruitment does that, and fish numbers and strong year classes are cyclical.
So, what it really comes down to is the proposed panfish regulation is a people thing. It all has to do with keeping things in check so that we don't see people bringing bucket full after bucket full of crappies and bluegills of the lake in the same day!
If the Commission passes the regulation at its Nov. 13 meeting, the new panfish limit regulation would be enforced as of Jan. 1, 2009.