Story by Emily Votruba Photos by Chip Marks
Sergeant Robert Torres of the Traverse City DNR enforcement office arrived at the mouth of the Betsie River this evening at about 5:30.
He had been called to the scene by reports of the efforts of citizens to save the fish as well as the snagging and bagging of fish struggling through the shallow water.
Torres spoke with the Alert after he left he scene. He could not comment on whether he had written any tickets. “Compared to last week when there was 50 to 100 people out there, there was hardly anybody tonight. There was lots of lawfully caught fish, hooked in the mouth. There was maybe six people out there. Whether it was word of mouth, or people have gone back downstate, that’s what we want—for people to stay out of there.
“Fisheries writes the rules, plants fish, and manages the fish population of Michigan. The law division enforces the laws they pass. Most of the time when there’s a law change they seek our input on whether or not it’s enforceable. We’ve been in touch with them since the situation came to our attention through the local anglers about the low water levels. We’ve had a lot of good input from citizens as far as solutions, whether it was closure, or dredging, but the DNR doesn’t regulate dredging. That’s the Army Corps and DEQ, totally different entities, one federal, one state. You need to get a hold of the proper entity you can’t just take it upon yourself to do that.
“But as far as the fish go, to protect them, to get them to go up—that’s what we deal with.” And there are fish in the river, he said. “We’ve talked to anglers. They’ve been catching them.
“Last year we had the biggest fish run in memory. It was a phenomenal run that started in August and lasted all the way to mid-October. Anglers are panicking because they’re not seeing all the fish they did last year. But they got to remember that last year we had the biggest fish run ever; number two, water levels are down to their lowest since 1961, temperatures have been high, with a mild winter, so water temperatures have been up and fish don’t run in hot water. The majority of fish are still being caught by boats out in Lake Michigan. It’s not a red alert for Fisheries because the majority of fish are still probably going to come in. They may come in before October 10 [when the Bay fishing ban is expected to take effect], they may come in after, we can’t say, but what we can say is that as long as people are in Betsie Bay, kicking around, that is going to impact fish getting up the river because when it’s ankle deep as opposed to thigh to waist deep, fish spook easily. Instead of working hard to get up there, they’re turning around and beaching themselves. That’s why this emergency closure is going into effect. Some anglers will voluntarily stay out because they realize the importance of letting the fish go and others will say, well, it’s my only trip up here… That’s the problem. We can’t cure certain mentalities.”
The Alert asked whether there’d be any kind of DNR presence for the next few days or weeks to stop the snagging. “If there’s illegal activity going on, people should call the RAP line and report it. There’s a lot of different seasons now, bears and small game, so we’re getting complaints all over the place, so I can’t say there’ll be an officer there 24-7. As we can we’ll go through there. I’m hoping the Village of Elberta will cooperate and post the press release when it comes out so that people will be able to see it and read it. As with any new law there’s a posting period that has to occur. When it’s enforceable [on October 10], that’s when all the official signs from Fisheries will go out.” The press release is posted on the DNR website here.
As this post went up, rain fell steadily and more was forecasted for the rest of the week.