DNR writing yellow perch plan

You really can't go wrong this month if you say, "I'll have the fish, please."

Out on the water, stripers and blues are schooling up for their annual fall dance.

On terra firma, the calendar is filling with the dates of meetings and hearings to talk about finned critters.

With time running out, the Department of Natural Resources is moving quickly to draft a yellow perch management plan that would take effect Jan. 1.

A group of stakeholders met Aug. 22 to review proposals that would help yellow perch migrate up rivers and streams to their historical spawning areas and provide a formula for divvying up the harvest between recreational and commercial fishermen.

"We had a good discussion," says Fisheries chief Howard King. "A layperson might have left there thinking the department had nowhere to go, but we were pretty optimistic when we left the meeting. We expected to meet again. ..."

There are a handful of options on the table: impose a five-year moratorium on both recreational and commercial activity; close Maryland waters to commercial fishing for the first two or three months of the year, when the yellow perch are spawning; prohibit fyke nets and fish pots in spawning areas; set catch quotas.

In most waterways, yellow perch are in tough shape if they're there at all. Recreational anglers blame watermen for scooping up the bulk of the fish each spring. The watermen blame poor water quality brought on by development and runoff.

Watermen sell most of their catch to wholesalers in the Midwest, where commercial yellow perch fishing has been prohibited in many states. Many recreational anglers want that practice stopped.

Last year, DNR leadership attempted to resolve the matter and open up more areas to commercial fishing. But the ensuing public relations nightmare - including a meeting ringed by police officers and the security-wanding of all attendees - put the kibosh on any chance of reconciliation.

Whatever gets worked out between now and Sept. 25 will be part of the discussion that night when the Department of Natural Resources has a shindig at Anne Arundel Community College to go over proposed changes in fishing regulations.

A new set of guidelines requires the agency to give the public a twice-annual chance to talk about stuff that is on the radar screen. This meeting will cover everything from turtles and blue crabs to restrictions on summer gill netting and yellow perch. (The list is on DNR's Fisheries Web page under regulations/draft regulations).

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in Lecture Hall 101 in the college's Florestano Building.

I've been assured that wanding will not be a part of the pre-meeting festivities.

Jim's dandy

The catching is over. It's time for the prize giving.

The state's third annual "Search for Diamond Jim" fishing tournament ended last week with at least 200 anglers qualified for the grand prize drawing. Just three people caught tagged striped bass-two in June and one in July-that would have been good for a minimum of $10,000 cash if the tags had matched prize envelopes.

The entries are still being sent in by tackle shops and marinas, but tournament organizer Marty Gary says simplified contest rules helped attract more participants. More than 30 species were caught from the list of 60 eligible fish and the entire state was open to the contest.

The drawing for the two grand prizes-a Toyota pick-up truck and a boat, motor and trailer-will be at 10 a.m. on Sept. 22 at Sandy Point State Park.

I've been assured that wanding will not be part of the festivities.

Buck stops there

Maryland anglers made their involuntary contribution to alleviate DNR's budget crisis when their license fees doubled this summer.

Now it's Gov. Martin O'Malley's turn to pony up.

When Senate Bill 1012 was approved to overhaul fisheries management policy and infuse DNR's piggy bank with $2.3 million in added license fees, it was with the hope that the governor would supply a 50 percent match -$1.15 million - from general funds. In return for their "investment" in DNR, recreational groups were promised a say when new policies are drafted.

Those groups, collectively and separately, have sent O'Malley letters acknowledging the state's budget problems but reminding him of the importance of revitalizing fish management.

DNR Deputy Secretary Eric Schwaab says the agency is still setting its Fiscal 2009 priorities and stitching together its budget request that will be submitted the Department of Budget and Management in the next couple of weeks. Then comes the fun part as DNR's needs are balanced against the needs of education, safety, transportation and all the rest.

The governor signed the bill, all good and well. Now it's up to the recreational community to make sure he puts his money where his mouth is.

A bunch of letters to the State House couldn't hurt.

Not fish

Maryland's month-long black bear hunt lottery drew 2,810 applications, a 17-percent increase over last year.

Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife and Heritage Service, says the Web site made it easy to apply and the addition of an on-line tutorial on bear hunting helped answer questions.

A computer picked 220 hunters Thursday night to receive permits for the split season, Oct. 22-27 and Dec. 3-8 in Garrett and Allegany counties.

Hunters will not be wanded.


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