The Michigan Fish Producers Association representing the few commercial fishermen that remain in Michigan is suing the state’s Department of Natural Resources over changes to industry rules. According to a story by Interlochen Public Radio, commercial fishers were also informed by the Michigan DNR that the agency has yet to renew commercial fishing licenses for 2021.
The report indicates while commercial fishing licenses are typically issued in December for the upcoming season. Those licenses have yet to be issued.
“I asked them if I could fish in 2021 in January, and they said no,” says Robert Ruleau III, of Ruleau Bros. Inc., a seventh-generation fisherman in Menominee.
“Ordinarily, during a warm January like this year, he would be out on the water. “I’m losing tens of thousands of dollars a day right now by not being able to fish,” Ruleau says.
Michigan DNR Points to Legislature as the Cause of Delay
For over eight years, the Michigan Legislature and commercial fishers have been attempting to revise the law for commercial fishing, dating back to 1929. State Senator Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah) endeavored to draft compromise legislation in the summer of 2020 but failed to issue a final draft. The DNR did not indicate supporting any of the more than 100 amendments McBroom had offered.
Natural Resources Meeting on Commercial Fishing
In late 2020, Michigan’s DNR director Dan Eichinger wrote a change in rules prohibiting fishing in water deeper than 80 feet and a change in Whitefish season to end on October 1 until December 10. Currently, there is no fishing whitefish during the spawn from November 1 – 30. Fishermen noted that they couldn’t catch fish at those depths except for a limited time in the spring.
Interlochen Public Radio noted that communications from the DNR gave the excuse that the rule changes and delay in renewing commercial fishing licenses result from the legislature’s failure to update the statutes.
Michigan DNR’s 50 Year Effort to Kill Commercial Fishing
In 2019 Thumbwind noted that the decline of the Michigan commercial fishing industry is no accident. Since the 1960s, the Michigan DNR’s Fisheries Division emphasized running the Great Lakes fisheries for sports fishing and sought a diminished commercial fishing role. In the late 1960s, the Department of Natural Resources enacted administrative rules creating development zones for recreational fishing throughout the Great Lakes, where commercial fishing would be prohibited. As a result, the number of commercial fishing licenses issued decreased from 339 in 1969 to 176 in 1970. Today 65 licenses are allowed; however, only about 13 are active.
The actions by the Michigan DNR likely mean a second hard year for commercial fishing in Michigan. On an average year, licensed commercial fishers catch 2.3 million lbs. of Whitefish a year. If they are not allowed to at least net whitefish, our beloved Bay Port Fish Company’s viability is doubtful.
Michigan’s tribal fishermen are not affected by the change in DNR rules nor on licensing.