The 2001 Walleye
In each summer issue of Lake Erie Walleye Magazine, weprovide a synopsis of the walleye fishery in Lake Erie based on the scientific reports produced by the fisheries management biologists from the states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.
We’ll report on the estimated size of the walleye population in Lake Erie, walleye growth and migration, catch rates, and other biological factors related to the walleye fish stocks in Lake Erie.
Walleye Quotas for 2001
The Lake Erie Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission for the third year in a row has reduced the total allowable catch (TAC) of walleyes. The TAC for 2001 has been set at 3.4 million fish, down 50% percent from the 2000 TAC of 7.7 million fish. The 1999 TAC was higher still at 10 million fish.
The committee took this action as a result of declining walleye fish stocks since the mid 1990s. It is believed that reducing the TAC by this significant amount over the next few years will help boost the walleye stocks.
Ohio and Ontario receive the majority of the walleye TAC. Of the 2001 TAC of 3.4 million walleyes, Ohio’s share is just over 1.7 million fish, about 51 percent of the TAC. Ontario’s share of the TAC is about 1.4 million fish, or about 43 percent. The remaining estimated 6 percent of the TAC is divided among Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York waters of Lake Erie.
Michigan Waters of Lake Erie
In 2000 anglers harvested an estimated 252,281 walleyes from the Michigan waters of Lake Erie. Of these, a total of 205,215 walleyes were taken by private anglers (81%) and 47,066 fish were taken by charter boat anglers (19%). Walleye fishing peaked in the month of July with 131,763 fish caught (Chart 1). More than 55% of the total annual walleye harvest occurred in the month of July. Overall angler effort in 2000 increased slightly to reach the highest level since 1994.
Age 2,3, and 4 (1998, 1997, and 1996 year classes) walleyes dominated the walleye harvest, comprising 87% of the catch. Harvested and age 2, 3, and 4 walleyes averaged 14.3 inches, 16.9 inches and 18.5 inches in total length.
In 2000 a total of 6,241 walleyes were tagged by Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan biologists at eight Lake Erie sites. A total of 130 tags were recovered by fishermen for a single season reporting rate of 2.3%. This inter-agency tagging study will continue to provide valuable information regarding walleye movements throughout the lake.
Figure 1 indicates the locations where Raisin River tagged walleyes were recovered in 2000. Remarkably, a few fish from the Raisin River tag site moved as far east as Buffalo, NY to the far eastern basin of Lake Erie.
Ohio Waters of Lake Erie
In the year 2000 an estimated .93 million (combined private and charter catch) walleyes were caught in Ohio waters of Lake Erie. This is down just slightly from 1999 (chart 2). The year 2000 private boat harvest of .68 million fish was a 2% decrease from 1999. Targeted effort of 2.2 million angler hours was 16% lower than in 1999. Walleye harvest was the second lowest estimated since the survey began in 1975.
In 2000 there were a total number of 907 licensed charter guides. This was a four percent drop from 1999 and well below the peak of 1,209 licensed charter guides in 1989. The 2000 charter boat walleye harvest of .25 million fish was a dramatic 26% lower than in 1999. The majority of the walleye sport harvest was from the 1996and the 1998 year class. Age 5 and older walleye constituted 30% of the lakewide catch.
Walleye size in Ohio waters averaged 19 inches and 2.4 pounds. The average size for walleyes increased from west to east (chart 3, figure 3).
In District 1 (western basin) walleyes caught averaged 18.3 inches and just over 2 pounds. The average age of walleyes caught in District 1 was just under 4 years. In District 3 (eastern part of the central basin) walleyes taken were significantly larger and older, averaging 23 inches and 4.5 pounds. The average age walleye in District 3 was 6.5 years, over 2.5 years older than walleyes taken in District 1.
What were walleyes eating last year? In the western basin walleyes fed mainly on shad and alewives. These clupeid species represented 86% of the total walleye diet in the western basin. The diet differed dramatically in the central basin Ohio waters of Lake Erie. Central basin walleyes fed mainly on shiners and rainbow smelt (Figure 2). Walleyes also fed on round gobies in the central basin. The amount of round gobies found in the stomachs of walleyes has been fairly consistent over the past three years ranging from 5% in 1998 to 9% in 1999 and 8% in 2000.
Tag and recapture studies of walleye in Ohio waters over the years have indicated that these fish migrate extensively throughout the lake. Figure 2 indicates where previously tagged walleyes (tagging sites were Sandusky River, Sandusky Bay and Cedar Point areas) were captured by anglers. The majority of the fish tagged from the Sandusky River, Sandusky Bay and Cedar Point areas were caught at points further east with some traveling to the far eastern basin of Lake Erie. Many of these fish migrate back to the western portions of Lake Erie during the fall months.
Pennsylvania Watersof Lake Erie
A very strong 1996 year class should sustain the 2001 walleye sport fishery at or near the 2000 level. This will still represent a general decline in walleye fishing success from the previous few years.
The numbers of older walleye are expected to remain in the population because of low exploitation rates and the Pennsylvania waters will produce good numbers of large ‘trophy’ sized walleyes in 2001. The large 1999 year class will also produce good numbers of 2 year old fish. These will show up in late summer walleye catches.
In 2000 anglers caught an estimated 84,410 walleyes in Pennsylvania waters. This represents a 9% decrease from 1999 levels. In 2000 walleye angler effort was estimated to be 244,116 hours, a decrease of 38% from 1999.
The walleye catch peaked in July (33,668 fish). Last year the fishing season was prolonged with excellent weather and anglers in September took over 20,000 walleyes (chart 4). The five year average catch for September is less than 5,000 walleyes.
The average size of walleyes caught in Pennsylvania waters in 2000 was 24.3 inches. This was an increase of over 2 inches from the previous year. Walleye age ranged from 3 to 12 years with 7 year old fish (93 year class) accounting for the greatest proportion (18%) of the catch.
New York Watersof Lake Erie
In 2000 the sport fishing angling effort in New York waters of Lake Erie was an estimated 424,563 angler hours which was the lowest seen in the 13 year time series of this creel survey. The lower fishing effort is attributed in part to difficult low water conditions that made it difficult to launch boats at several launch ramps. A total estimated walleye harvest was 28,594 fish, up slightly from the 23,134 walleye taken in 1999 (chart 5).
The 2000 walleye sport fishery was centered in offshore waters between Dunkirk and Irving, New York; areas east and west produced a markedly lower harvest. Walleye angling quality and fishing effort in the vicinity of Barcelona and areas east of Sturgeon Point were particularly poor during 2000.
The overall targeted walleye catch rate during the 2000 fishing season was .15 fish per hour which ranks walleye fishing quality very similar to the previous 7 years.
The average total length of walleyes in 2000 was 23.7 inches.