Yellow Perch Survey From Michigan DNR

We ask a DNR Fish Biologist; What Happened to All the Yellow Perch in Saginaw Bay?

It’s been a perennial question for 20 years. What happened to all the yellow perch? Talk to anyone over a certain age and they will tell you of the times when people used to take perch by the bucket full fishing off the Caseville break wall. Folks like to remember those robust fishing days out in Saginaw Bay with Grandpa and yearn for their return. Those times seem like a distant memory.

Ice Fishing Feature Image Yellow Perch
Ice Fishing Feature Image

Emotions are running high on this topic. Certain folks point to the few commercial fishing outfits that are left and assert that they are taking all the perch with no boundaries or oversight. Others point to runoff from farms into the Bay and think pollution is to blame. Some others blame unscrupulous recreational anglers who come running into shore to dump their limit catch and go back out again. There is a lot of finger-pointing and the trolls are out on this issue from every side.

Great Lakes Wide Yellow Perch Shortage

Saginaw Bay is not alone in its lack of perch. The same story is being heard in Lake Erie, and in Lake Michigan, partially in Green Bay. Canada is also seeing a decline. Headlines of “Perch Shortage” are seen in Milwaukee as the annual Lenten tradition of Friday Perch fry had to change to it’s fish to Pollock. In Wisconsin, they used to serve Perch Fries all week. Now with no available yellow perch from Lake Erie, prices are going up or yellow perch is not available at all.

Perch Yield Sport and Commercial
Perch Yield Sport and Commercial

Yellow Perch Status in Saginaw Bay

I had the opportunity to talk to Tom Goniea, a Senior Fish Biologist within the Fisheries division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Tom was born in Michigan. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Michigan State University and has a Master of Science from the University of Idaho. Tom has been working as a fish biologist with the Michigan DNR since 2002. He offered candid insight on what is going on with perch in Saginaw Bay. I found it insightful. Here is a bit of the exchange we had on the perch population in Saginaw Bay.

Q: Do commercial fishermen have limits on the number of perch they can take on Saginaw Bay?

A: Commercial fishing operations have limits in terms of the number of licenses we issue, the amount and type of netting used and the size limit of the perch they can keep. It’s currently set at eight and a half inches.

Q: What is the impact of commercial fishing on the available fish in Saginaw Bay?

A: Ten years ago, recreational fishing took 90% of the perch harvested. Commercial fishing took 10%. Now with improvements in gear and reduced number of perch, commercial operations take between 30-40% while recreational anglers take 60-70%.

Q: Is overfishing causing the decline in yellow perch population?

A: Commercial and recreational harvesting is not the cause of the decline in the perch population. First, there is plenty of perch hatched in the Bay each year. It’s a problem with recruitment. Juvenile perch are not surviving their first winter. The problem is that Zebra and Quaggra mussels are filtering out the zooplankton that the young fish need to survive. Young perch are not getting to the right size and fat content to survive the first winter. The lack of food means lower growth potential. The other aspect is that the number of predators such as walleye is significantly higher. Our studies show them favoring the young perch for food.

Q: What other trends are you seeing?

A: We are seeing the lowest rate of commercial fishing, ever. There are fewer commercial fishermen and less gear in the Great Lakes than we had 10, 30 or even 100 years ago.

We closed our quick conversation agreeing to sync up as other questions and events happen that affect the fisheries in the state.

Current Yellow Perch Daily Catch Limits

In 2019 the statewide daily possession limit for yellow perch has been reduced to 25. In Lake Erie, the daily possession limit for yellow perch is 50. See the DNR site for specific details on yellow perch. The site contains a fishing guide offering a condensed collection of rules and regulations for anglers’.

Michigan State Capital
Michigan State Capital

Michigan House Bills Seek to Eliminate Yellow Perch Commerical Fishing

Lake whitefish, walleye, yellow perch, and ciscoes are the foundation of the tribal and commercial fishery in the state. Salmon, walleye, trout, and muskellunge (among many other species) help comprise the recreational fishing.

The Michigan House passed a trio of related bills that will cease all commercial yellow perch fishing on the state’s Great Lakes. The “Trio” (4567, 4568, and 4569) also continues to ban the taking of walleye and lake trout by the remaining 13 commercial fishing companies left in Michigan. The next step will be a vote in the Senate where it will face a competing bill sponsored by five Republican state Senators that is less damaging to Michigan commercial fishing.

Related Reading for Yellow Perch Fishing

Michigan State Capital
Michigan State Capital

Michigan House Passes Bill Damaging to Commercial Fishing, Faceoff Coming in Senate The trio of house bills: 4567, 4568, and 4569. Stops the taking of perch and also continues to ban the taking of walleye and lake trout by the remaining 13 commercial fishing companies left in Michigan.


Dead In the Water

Is Commercial Fishing Dead In the Water? The planned demise of commercial fishing is not just occurring in Michigan. It’s happening across the United States. On the east coast, NOAA’s hopeful efforts along New England serve to wipe out an industry while doing nothing for the fishery it intended to save.


Walleye Pike

The State of Michigan’s 50 Year Effort to Curb Commercial Fishing. It’s taken 50 years. The State of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources has a published strategy and policymaking that has effectively curtailed commercial fishing in Michigan to the brink of extinction.


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7 thoughts on “We ask a DNR Fish Biologist; What Happened to All the Yellow Perch in Saginaw Bay?”

    • Should blame invasive species, over-planting of predator lake trout and walleye, and lack of proper government involvement. This isn’t the commercial fishing from the early 1900s. A lot has changed, but sadly the industry has continued to be looked at in the same negative way. There are far too many people making ignorant statements regarding commercial fishing; either misinformed or unable to accept the fact that no one cares more about the lakes and keeping sustainable populations of all species than commercial fishermen.

  1. The commercial netters are bold face liars, corrupt and breaking the law with our resources and with the state by false documents. Shut em down Immediately.

    • I feel your statements are rather harsh.What knowledge do you have to say such things?

      • Back in the late 50s and early 60s, perch was plentiful in the area. It was the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 that took the perch population down to almost zero due to the introduction of the sea lamprey eel and other species. This happened before most of you were born. Check your history. Since then, other harmful species have been introduced.

        We always stopped at the roadside fish stand in Caseville on the way back from the State Park going home to Bay City for the BEST perch sandwiches ever!!! Last time I drove by the area, the little wooden building still stood there – but abandoned. I sure miss them.

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