PENNSYLVANIA — The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) made the important decision Friday to maintain the 2021 creel limits on Lake Erie. This means that anglers can continue catching up to 30 Yellow Perch per day, and six Walleye per day. These regulations come as a result of an ongoing effort by PFBC’s Lake Erie Research Unit, which evaluates the fish populations every year. Should it be necessary, precautionary procedures are implemented in order to reduce harvest in order to replenish fish stocks and promote sustainability. The commission’s decision has been adopted by all jurisdictions bordering Lake Erie, making sure that everyone adheres to the same standards for recreational fishing.
“The 2022 assessment showed that both Yellow Perch and Walleye populations in the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie remain at levels that do not necessitate regulation changes,” said Dave Nihart, the PFBC’s Fisheries Management Division Chief. “Based on this data, the 2023 creel limits are being maintained at the standard limits.”
At its March 30, 2023, meeting, the Lake Erie Committee allotted to Pennsylvania a Yellow Perch total allowable catch (TAC) of 536,000 pounds, a 1% increase from 2022, and 2% below the long-term average of 546,768 pounds. The 2023 level includes a Yellow Perch TAC for Pennsylvania’s commercial trap net fishery of 100,000 pounds. Currently, Pennsylvania represents a very small portion of the total Yellow Perch harvest in Lake Erie. Yellow Perch harvest has averaged about 40,000 pounds over the last five years. In 2022, Pennsylvania’s harvest was recorded at just 64,405 pounds (1.9%) of the 3.4 million pounds harvested lake-wide.
The Yellow Perch and Walleye populations in Lake Erie are maintained strictly by natural reproduction. Good “hatches” and the survival of young fish are necessary to provide fish for sport and commercial fisheries. While abundant Lake Erie Walleye hatches have been record-setting over the last five years, the Yellow Perch hatches have been poor over the same period. As a result, both fisheries reflect these trends. Walleye fishing is excellent, while Yellow Perch fishing remains below average. Sport fishing is very self-regulating, and anglers tend to fish for species based on the quality of the fishery. In 2022, 89% of Lake Erie boat anglers targeted Walleye, while only about two percent targeted Yellow Perch.
Based on a 2023 abundance estimate of 93.6 million Walleyes age two or older, the Walleye population has increased approximately 32% from 2022 and over half (52%) of the Walleye abundance will be two-year-old fish, and averaging about 13 inches. It takes three years for Lake Erie Walleye to fully grow to the 15″ minimum size limit.
The PFBC’s objective is to keep harvest limits at conservative levels without being too restrictive to fisheries, and to be able to act promptly if Walleye or Yellow Perch populations reach critically low levels. The PFBC adopted a regulation in 2012 that established flexible creel limits for Walleyes and Yellow Perch based on the annual quotas established by the Lake Erie Committee, which consists of fisheries managers from Pennsylvania; Ohio; New York; Michigan; and Ontario, Canada.
Under the regulation, the PFBC sets daily creel limits for these species by April 15 each year.
“Adaptive fishing regulations are based on the most recent fishery assessment results and are better aligned with the current status of the Yellow Perch and Walleye stocks,” Nihart added. “This regulatory flexibility gives fisheries managers the ability to change daily harvest limits prior to the onset of the summer boat fishing season on Lake Erie.”