The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved an emergency rule last week to maintain cisco numbers in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior.
The state Department of Natural Resources’ Todd Kalish said the agency has worked with the state’s commercial fishers to set a harvest quota of about 1.5 million pounds. Commercially important whitefish feed on cisco eggs, a critical piece of the lake’s ecosystem. Harvests of cisco, otherwise known as lake herring, quadrupled in 2008 when commercial fishers brought in around 1.4 million pounds to supply demand in Scandinavian markets.
The harvest quota will take effect this October.
“The quota is based on … the best science we have available on survey data — population estimates — and it would be updated every three years,” Kalish said.
“The emergency rule is expected to have minimal economic impact because commercial license holders will be able to harvest at or near current levels,” the DNR reported. “However it is important to have the rule and an upcoming permanent rule in place to allow DNR to reduce or increase the harvest limit based on future assessments of cisco populations.”
Kalish said the quota amounts to about 15 percent of the cisco population in the Wisconsin waters of Lake Superior. The rule applies to state license holders, but it doesn’t affect tribal fishermen.
Craig Hoopman, a commercial fisherman in Bayfield, said he supports the emergency rule only if it applies to everyone.
“I would like to see all the stakeholders take part in this,” Hoopman said last week. “We’re trying to protect this for seven generations. My family and I are the sixth right now, so I would like to see six more generations of all user groups have the opportunity that I’ve been given.”
North Wisconsin Rod and Gun Club President Dave Sorenson agreed that all user groups should be held to the same standard.
“In my understanding, the tribes have not agreed to this at all, and so you’re putting a quota on the few in the commercial fishery,” Sorenson said. “I go back to the 1980s when I stood before the board at that time. We had a discussion when the Native Americans got their rights to do anything they want. This board took the steps in slow increments that eventually put out the entire commercial fishery industry in Bayfield, except for a couple people that are left.”
Sorenson said he hoped the same situation wasn’t transpiring with regard to the cisco quota.
Mic Isham, chairman of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, addressed Sorenson’s comments directly later in the board meeting in Ashland.
“We did not get those rights to do anything we want. We reserved those rights in treaties,” Isham said. “When he said ‘their rights,’ there’s two parties to the treaties — not just tribal rights … The whole statement ‘to do anything we want’ — we’re probably the most highly regulated user group in what is now known as Wisconsin. Any inference that we’re somehow depleting the resources is 100 percent false.”
Natural Resources Board member Preston Cole said state-tribal relations on resource management is an ongoing conversation.
“I recognize that there are complexities to this,” Cole said. “My hope is that everybody will have skin in the game at some point.”
The Wisconsin DNR, Red Cliff and Bad River tribes are in the process of negotiating an agreement overseeing management of the resource in Lake Superior. The most recent agreement expired in 2015.