The more things change, the more they remain contentious.
Winter and spring months will be a busy time for crafters of the final wording of the New York State Sportfishing Regulations for 2006-2008.
The Department of Environmental Conservation recently established a two-year interval for establishing new fishing laws, introduced on even calendar years.
Complications in presenting changes, plus costs of initial printing and often of revised copies, fostered a change to two-year change intervals. This is the year for changes, and a total of 49 regulations appeared in the New York State Register published on Dec. 28, 2005.
Anglers have 45 days to respond to these 49 changes, many of which have one or more stipulation, qualification, emendation, condition, provision, and lettered specifics for areas and regions.
For Western New Yorkers, close to a dozen changes involve area anglers and waters. First on the list affects the most anglers across the state. If passed, this regulation would establish a "statewide year round season for black bass by adding a catch and release only, artificial lures only, season from Dec. 1 through the Friday preceding the third Saturday in June," the day before a statewide opening of bass season each year.
Mike Cusano, Salt City Bassmasters president and NYS Bass Chapter Federation lobbyist, points out that bass fishing is open year round in 43 states, with no scientific evidence of harm to bass populations when fishing during spawning periods. In our area, much of the smallmouth and largemouth bass nesting period begins after the statewide opening day.
Lake Erie bass anglers have a special one-fish "trophy" season from the first Saturday in May until the statewide opener in June. A proposal would raise the minimum length during this special season from 15 to 20 inches. Don Einhouse, senior aquatic biologist at the Lake Erie Unit at Dunkirk, has heard no opposition to this increase to date. Some anglers question pulling bass from Erie's deeper waters during open-water areas before the early May opener.
Trout regulations offer a greater number of changes and stipulations under item 16, a general heading to "allow a catch and release, artificial lures only season from Oct. 16 through March 31" on many inland streams previously closed to trout fishing.
After the NYS Register publication, Goose Creek in Chautauqua County was entered as a year-round statewide trout regulations fishery.
No negative comments have emerged on a length increase from 9 to 12 inches for all salmonids (trout and salmon) in Lake Erie and its tributaries, but both the Erie County Fisheries Advisory Board and the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs went on record in opposition to a change for Eighteen Mile Creek in Erie County.
Item 23 proposes an artificial lures only catch-and-release area of 1.67 miles of this creek in an area currently open to catch and keep year-round.
Perhaps the most discussed and welcomed change relating to Lake Erie has to be the restoration of a five-fish limit for walleye in Lake Erie and the upper Niagara River. Outdoors writer Dave "Forrest Fisher" Barus dubbed this one the "Herby Schultz amendment." Schultz, past president of Southtowns Walleye Association and ECFAB, fought to bar the four-'eyes provision begun in 2004.
A healthy 2003-year class of walleye in Lake Erie lakewide prompted officials to go back to the statewide five-fish creel. No opposition there.
The special lower Niagara River walleye creel limit of three fish would drop to one fish caught from Jan. 1 until the statewide closing on March 15.
The Lake Ontario lake trout count would drop from three to two, with only one laker allowed in the current slot limit of 25 to 30 inches.
As a matter of designation, Buffalo River waters would be included under the current regulations for Lake Erie tributary stream fishing regulations.
Anglers and all interested in fishing regulations have until Feb. 14 to offer input on any and all of these 49 listed changes. To comment on these changes, write: Shaun Keeler, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233; call (518) 402-8920; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.