Regulations as a Management Tool
Regulations can be effective tools for conservation and improving fishing opportunities. Prior to 1900, there were very few fisheries regulations in Ohio. In 1902, black bass were prohibited from commercial harvest, which had been common in the canal lakes during the 1800s. This began an era of more stringent commercial and sport fishery regulation up until the 1950s, when sport fishery regulations became more liberal due to the beliefs that some harvest of sportfish was healthy for a fishery and that recreational anglers could not severely deplete populations. By the 1970s, an increase in sophisticated sportfishing pressure lead to the realization that anglers could, in fact, reduce the quality of fishing. This ushered in the current era when a variety of regulations have been tailored to prevent overharvest, maximize catch rates, fairly distribute harvest or help meet other fisheries objectives.
Effective regulations are biologically permissible, socially acceptable, and enforceable. The two primary regulation tools used in inland waters by the Division of Wildlife are daily (bag) limits and length limits. In inland waters, daily limits, such as the 30-fish per day crappie limit implemented on selected reservoirs during 2010, are generally used to more fairly distribute the catch among anglers rather than significantly reduce the total harvest. In the inland waters of Ohio, few anglers routinely catch limits of fish, so to effectively reduce total annual harvest using daily limits; these limits need to be set very, very low.
Length limits are often used to adjust the numbers and sizes of fish in a population to meet specific fisheries management objectives. Objectives for minimum length limits are often to increase the numbers and sizes of fish caught. When effective, minimum length limits may increase the total pounds of fish harvested or provide larger fish for anglers to catch, whether they keep or release them. These regulations also tend to increase the number of fish caught immediately below the size of the length limit.
Variations of daily and length limits, such as slot length limits, are more complex. These regulations are intended to change the numbers and sizes of fish of specific length ranges to improve catches of larger fish. Slot length limits, or similar approaches, are used when some “thinning out” of a population is desired to help fish grow more quickly to the larger sizes that anglers seek. For example, with a 12-15 inch slot length limit, anglers are encouraged to harvest fish less than 12 inches to reduce the numbers of smaller fish and restricted from harvesting 12-15 inch fish. The objective of such a regulation is to provide more fish greater than 15 inches.
The Division of Wildlife does not use closed season or extensive gear restrictions in inland waters. Some states do choose to use closed seasons, but in Ohio’s inland waters factors other than fishing during the spawning season have considerably greater influence on reproductive success of sportfish. Therefore, preventing anglers from fishing during spawning seasons simply reduces opportunities rather than improving fishing. A notable exception in Ohio is the catch and release season for black bass in Lake Erie, implemented to address concerns related to the invasion of round gobies. These invasive species are known to quickly invade the nests and consume eggs of smallmouth bass when anglers catch fish guarding nests.
Other restrictions, such as “no trolling” or “fly-fishing only” are not used in inland waters as well. At this time, the Division of Wildlife believes that our daily limits and length limits are more effective means to improve fishing, and can be used without restricting opportunities to fish with a variety of methods.