As of the last NRC meeting on July 14th, chumming regulation in Michigan have been updated to prohibit chumming with organic material on types 1, 2, 3, and 4, streams. The NRC and DNR received public comments for a 3-month period and the NRC received comments at fourteen meetings before coming to this conclusion.
Earlier this year, Fisheries Order 200.16A laid out the possible changes in regulations for chumming with three different options. By the meeting in July, this order had expanded to list five different regulatory options which included no changes, chumming bans on only certain rivers, chumming bans on certain classes of rivers and streams, or a volume limit on chumming per angler/per vessel. In the end, the NRC chose the most restrictive option which is a full ban on Types 1-4 trout rivers and streams (for a full listing of these, see Fisheries Order 210.16).
Chumming is seen as a possible vector for disease transference, as well as possibly being a detriment to the purity and clarity of Michigan’s waters, especially chumming practices that use offal or fish eggs. Chumming with fish eggs was banned before due to the early concern that diseases such as Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia virus (VHS) could be spread through chumming. VHS was identified in Great Lake waters in 2005 and the virus does not have any impact on humans, but quickly spreads through the fish population, and can easily wipe out an entire species. There are currently 28 species of fish that are recognized as susceptible to the Great Lakes strain of VHS including 19 sportfish. In 2007, Fisheries Order 245 was enacted, prohibiting the use of fish eggs as chum in Michigan waters to prevent the spread of VHS. In 2012, the strain of VHS present in the Great Lakes was found NOT to be transmittable through fish eggs, and the order was modified to allow fish eggs to be used again as chum.
MUCC has previously written on this issue as well as recently updating our stance on chumming at our 79th annual convention. In 2002, MUCC was opposed to chumming for the disease concerns noted above, but at our 2016 Annual Convention a resolution from Metro West Steelheaders updated that position since the VHS concerns were found to be incorrect. MUCC supports the use of the best available and scientifically sound data to base decisions to regulate or not regulate the use of chumming. In this case, we feel that the NRC decision to completely ban chumming on Type 1-4 trout streams was made using the best available data, but was overly-critical of the practice, using a full ban to address their valid concerns rather than through a regulated approach while allowing the practice to continue.
DNR fisheries biologists stated at several meetings that there are no known disease issues with using local Michigan eggs for chumming. There may be fish diseases in other states that would be disastrous to our fisheries here, but given the current practices here in Michigan it would be highly unusual that eggs from states known to carry these diseases would be transported over to Michigan waters and used for broadcast chum.
Eggs used for any manner of baiting or attractant should be certified as disease free, but how do you ensure that? During the VHS scare, fishermen were required to retain their receipt from the purchase of live bait, but that regulation ended in 2014. According to the Michigan DNR, upon repeal of this regulation, "Receipts were previously used for educational and enforcement purposes to direct anglers to places where their bait could be used based on purchase location and whether or not it was certified as disease-free. VHS regulations have been in effect for several years and, after careful review, the DNR determined the retail receipt provision could be removed because anglers are more knowledgeable about the risks associated with baitfish use." A similar regulation could be applied towards fish eggs, however, we will acknowledge this would be incredibly difficult to enforce as many anglers collect eggs from the fish cleaning station rather than buying them from a dealer.
There was also concern expressed by the NRC and biologists regarding certain cures (primarily sodium sulfite) used to preserve fish eggs, based on a 2011 study in Oregon, which showed significant mortality of juvenile salmon in a lab setting. This concern could also be addressed through a educational and voluntary approach, just as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife did in response to the study. People who sell cured fish eggs to anglers in Oregon report to the agency how much sodium sulfite is used by weight of cure, and the agency then will "certify" them (if its a safe low amount) and then educate anglers to buy (or make) only safe cures with low concentrations of sodium sulfite found to be safe. This approach could be adopted here in Michigan as well.
While we are pleased the the Natural Resources Commission offered the lengthy period of public comment on this issue, we would say that their solution to the problem misses the mark. Using fish eggs for chum, spawn bags, and skein should be treated equally when applying scientific based recommendations. We have offered a couple of alternative regulations that would still allow chumming, but continue to be protective of the fisheries. There may be other alternatives out there as well, and we would hope that the NRC would consider these approaches rather than doing away completely with a valid method of take.
The next Natural Resources Commission meeting will be held August 11th, 2016 at the Michigan State University Diagnostic Center, and is open to the public. MUCC will be there to offer comment, as always.
Want to actually do something to help stop the spread of VHS and other possible threats like invasive species within Michigan waters? Don’t forget to remove all visible plants from your boat and dispose of unwanted bait in the trash. Also, empty, rinse and dry boats or other recreational equipment before transporting them to another body of water.