PA Sets Daily Creel Limits for Lake Erie Yellow Perch and Walleye

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced that the 2021 creel limit for Lake Erie yellow perch will remain at 30 per day and the creel limit for walleye will stay at six per day.

The PFBC Lake Erie Research Unit evaluates the populations of yellow perch and walleye in Lake Erie annually.  If populations reach critically low levels, management actions are taken to prevent overharvest and rebuild the numbers of yellow perch and walleye in the Lake.  All jurisdictions on Lake Erie adhere to this system.

“The 2020 assessment showed that both yellow perch and walleye populations in the Pennsylvania waters of Lake Erie remain at levels that don’t necessitate regulation changes,” said Chuck Murray, PFBC Lake Erie Biologist.  “Based on this assessment, the 2021 creel limits are being maintained at the standard limits.”

At its March 26 meeting, the Lake Erie Committee, which consists of fisheries managers from Pennsylvania; Ohio; New York; Michigan; and Ontario, Canada, allotted to Pennsylvania a yellow perch total allowable catch (TAC) of 451,000 pounds.  This allotment represents a 16% decrease from 2020 and is 18% below the long-term average of 550,621 pounds.  The 2021 level includes a yellow perch TAC for Pennsylvania’s commercial trap net fishery of 100,000 pounds.

Currently, Pennsylvania accounts for a very small part of the total yellow perch harvest in Lake Erie.  Yellow perch harvest has averaged about 71,000 pounds over the last five years.  In 2020, Pennsylvania harvested only 21,000 pounds (0.7%) of the 3.1 million pounds harvested lake wide.

The yellow perch and walleye populations in Lake Erie are maintained strictly by natural reproduction.  Good “hatches” and survival of young fish are necessary to provide fish for sport and commercial fisheries.

“While Lake Erie walleye hatches have been record-setting over the last five years, the yellow perch hatches have been poor over the same period.  Both fisheries reflect these trends,” added Murray. “Walleye fishing has been excellent while yellow perch fishing has been poor.”

Murray noted that sport fishing is very self-regulating.  Anglers tend to fish for species based on the quality of the fishery.  In 2020, 90% of Lake Erie boat anglers targeted walleye; less than 1% targeted yellow perch.

Based on a 2021 lake-wide abundance estimate of 96 million walleyes age two or older, the walleye population has increased 35% from 2020, but approximately half (51%) of the walleye abundance will be two-year-old fish averaging 13 inches in length.  The abundance of two-year-old (2019 year class) walleye will result in a significant portion of the walleyes being under 15 inches for much of the 2021 season and will have to be released by anglers.  It takes three years for Lake Erie walleye to achieve the 15″ minimum size limit.

The PFBC’s objective is to keep harvest limits at conservative levels while not excessively restricting the fisheries, and to maintain the ability to promptly adjust management practices if walleye or perch populations reach critically low levels.  The PFBC adopted a regulation in 2012 which established flexible creel limits for walleyes and yellow perch based on the annual quotas established by the Lake Erie Committee.  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,” Murray 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.”