This is not a scholarly report on the evolution of fisheries management in
Wisconsin. It was never intended to be. I have, instead, gleaned from whatever
sources I could find interesting material which has some bearing on why and how
we became what we are. Many comments are taken directly from early annual
reports of the Fish Commissioners and Conservation Commission biennial reports.
In addition, I have perused the literature of some earlier writers relating to
conservation in Wisconsin, like Increase Lapham, James Nevin, E. A. Birge,
Walter Scott, George Becker, etc.. Many of the comments in this document exist
in numerous other forms in the literature.
In 1674, a French priest near what is now DePere wrote that it was impossible to conduct a church service because of the immense piles of drying fish which created objectionable odors. The indians had built a weir across the mouth of the Fox River from which they speared northern pike, sturgeon and muskellunge. In the 1830s there were accounts of shooting fish with guns, presumably stunning them to permit capture, at the confluence of the Menominee and Milwaukee Rivers. No doubt this occurred in other port cities as well. After 1844, pier and bridge fishing was popular in Milwaukee, however, by 1855 this was no longer profitable and was generally discontinued. By 1879, 93 miles of sewers discharged into the rivers of Milwaukee. Thus came the end of fishing in the lower rivers. Similar discharges in other port cities may also have curtailed fisheries at the river mouths.
In 1831, Henry Schoolcraft, visiting the Brule River, commented on the river as being "... cold and clear... with thousands of real mountain brook trout." In 1874, anglers fishing the same river would comment on removing the barbs from their hooks because fish were so plentiful they considered the time spent removing them from their hooks to be wasted.
In 1839, the Territorial Government passed a law directing that fishways be put in every dam, except mill dams. Fishways could have a slope no greater than 1:4. This is probably the first recorded law in Wisconsin to protect any natural resource. A forfeiture for obstruction of streams, except with mill dams, was established at $20 per week.
Records indicate the fishway law of 1839 was never fully enforced, largely because there were at that time no successful fish ladder designs for fish such as those found in most Wisconsin rivers. Otherwise, our state fisheries might have been considerably different than they were with the increase in the number of dams across the state.
The Territorial Statutes of Wisconsin, in 1839, authorized organized counties to create fish inspectors. These individuals would primarily be engaged in quality assurance activities such as assuring that firkins, casks and barrels of fish were properly "corned" during the packing process, and were properly labelled. The penalty for improper packing was $2.
During the 1850s, fishermen at Depere constructed racks (weirs) similar to those of the indians and netted and speared fish without difficulty.
In 1853, gill nets were outlawed in streams through state law if their use obstructed the free passage of fish up or down the stream. In addition, seines and nets were prohibited in any lake smaller than 12 square miles. Fines for fishing with seines or nets were limited to $20-$2 for each offence, and for fishing with gill nets the fines were limited to $5-$1 for each offence.
In 1853, Manitowoc county was authorized to hire a fish inspector.
In 1858, an 8-month brook trout open season was established. Fish could only be taken with hook and line and could not be sold.
The first state fisheries enforcement effort was appointment of a Great Lakes fish inspector in 1866. An earlier inspector for the city of Milwaukee (1859) inspected only the packing and weighing of fish and was restricted to the port of Milwaukee.
Increase Lapham - Father of Wisconsin's Conservation Movement, published in 1867, a report on The Disastrous Effects of Destruction of Forest Trees in Wisconsin, and pointed out the effects deforestation would have on soil and water resources.
An account of the period immediately prior to the Peshtigo fire of 1871 indicated that farmers would drive to the banks of the Peshtigo River and catch wagon loads of fish with nets, to smoke and salt for the coming winter. After the fire, the streams were full of dead fish and the water tasted of lye.
Between 1870 and 1875 commercial fish catches on Lake Michigan had decreased by over 25%, prompting concern for the future of fish for the market.
In 1871, Congress provided for a Commissioner of Fisheries and appointed Prof. Spencer Baird to that position. He would later provide Wisconsin with some of its first fish for propagation.
Records indicate Mr. H. F. Dousman, of North Prairie, in 1873 hatched salmon eggs for the state from eggs received from eggs furnished by the U.S. Fish Commissioner.
Between 1872 and 1877, P. R. Hoy catalogued the cold blooded vertebrates of Wisconsin and published lists that totalled over 100 fish species. Hoy was named one of the State Fish Commissioners in 1874.
By provision of the laws of 1872, an appropriation of $500 had been made to the U.S. Commissioner of Fisheries, to be expended "... in promoting the artificial propagation and the introduction into this state of the better kinds of fish." The Commissioner provided spawn to Mr. H.S. Dousman, at Waterville, in Waukesha County, who reared fish for introduction into Lake Geneva and the Madison lakes. Records indicate nearly 20,000 salmon were distributed to these waters.
In 1873, under similar circumstances, provisions were made for hatching and distribution of "California" trout, presumably rainbow trout, from spawn shipped from San Francisco to Boscobel. Fish were initially distributed to streams in Grant, Crawford and Lafayette counties.
In 1874, a State Fish Commission was appointed and an appropriation of $360 was made for its operation. It was reasoned that benefits should accrue to the larger lakes (Michigan and Superior) and the commission's interest should concentrate there, since whitefish and lake trout were diminishing in number. The commission consisted of three commissioners (Wm. Welch, A. Palmer, P.R. Hoy) to receive and distribute fish spawn from the federal Bureau of Fisheries.
The Commissioners reported in 1874 "We may assume as a safe proposition, that no state in the Union, disconnected from the sea-board, is better suited for fish culture than Wisconsin."
The first report of the Fish Commissioners of the State of Wisconsin also indicated: "The amusement too in angling is of great moment, and employs many spare hours of both boys and girls."
In 1875, Wisconsin received Atlantic salmon and land-locked salmon "Sebac",
which were distributed to local growers on the promise that the state would have
preference in subsequent sales of fish.
Elsewhere, Milwaukee (1876), Bayfield (1895), Sturgeon Bay (1913), Sheboygan
(1913), facilities were subsequently developed which would provide fish for
Great Lakes stocking programs.
During the summer of 1875, one of the Fish Commissioners began collecting information on the depth, temperature, and nature of the bottom of the larger inland lakes. The intent was to provide data the ascertain the appropriate species of fish to plant.
It is noteworthy that E.A. Birge began teaching biology at the University of Wisconsin in 1875, and basically taught all the biology given at Wisconsin at the time, including zoology, botany, bacteriology, human anatomy and physiology. Dr. Birge died in 1950, after contributing scholarly works on Wisconsin lakes for over 65 years of his career. Thus, as we near the turn of the century, we can conclude that fisheries work and that related to it in this state has spanned possibly less than four generations; two lifetimes.
The first state owned trout hatchery was established in Madison on June 27,
1876, when the state purchased 29 acres at "Nine Springs" for $1,395, with
M.D. Comstock as its superintendent, at a salary of $1,000 per year. This is
the current Nevin Hatchery. Nevin is also the first purchase of land by the
state for outdoor recreational purposes.
There is also mention of a hatching house being built in 1876 at Pensaukee under the direction of John Palmer, and a subsequent report of incubating herring and whitefish at this facility. A temporary hatchery was also set up that year in the engine house of the Milwaukee waterworks.
In 1877, the first distribution of lake trout and whitefish from hatchery facilities in Milwaukee was made to Lake Michigan.
In 1877, the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries first imported carp from Germany, and subsequently distributed them to the states.
In 1877 the first wardens were appointed and the first season regulations were put into place. Records indicate these were local wardens, who received a portion of the fine for their compensation.
The legislature in 1878, appalled at the destruction of young fish in small mesh gill nets in the Great Lakes, fixed the minimum mesh size at 3 inches. Also, in 1878, the brook trout season was further restricted by statute to an open season of only five months.
In 1879, the first carp (75 adults) were introduced into Wisconsin. In October that year, 300 fry were placed in the Nevin Hatchery ponds. These first fish did not survive well in the cold water of the ponds. The first Commission-appointed wardens began in 1879, to enforce fish and game laws in Ashland, Bayfield and Douglas counties. The Fish Commissioners recommended and the legislature subsequently established a closed season for black bass and walleye in 1881, from February 1 to May 1. James Nevin was appointed state Fish Commissioner in 1882.
In 1883, two million brook trout fry and 100,000 "California mountain trout"
were produced at the Madison "Nevin" hatchery.
The Fish Commissioners' report for 1883 indicated plantings of 8 million walleye
In 1884, 300 of the first successfully reared carp were distributed to the public at the Milwaukee exposition, with a recommendation that they be kept in private ponds.
In 1885, the Governor appointed three wardens to enforce commercial fishing regulations on the Great Lakes.
In 1885, the sale of brook trout was prohibited in all counties except, Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, Polk, Pierce and Burnett. It appears that either the earlier prohibition on sale, 1858, may not have been enforced, or there was reason to allow sale in these northern counties.
The state Fish Commissioners' report of 1886 referred to a visit to a hog farm near Prairie du Sac, in Sauk County. A Commissioner indicated the farmer had been quite successful in rearing carp in a slough on his property that was co-inhabited by hogs during the summer months. He commented "Whether the fish live on the hogs or the hogs live on the fish I can not say; but both are in splendid condition. There are thousands of just such mud-holes throughout the state, and there is no doubt that carp will do well in most of them."
In 1886 or so, Professor Trelease wrote about algae so thick on Lake Mendota that you could not row a boat through it.
In 1887, 1,000 German brown trout eggs were imported. This is the first reported instance of brown trout importation.
In 1889, a three-month closed season was established for muskellunge (February 1 to May 1).
In the 1890s, fishing for lake trout with baited hooks became popular. This remained a fairly important method of harvest on Lake Superior until the 1950s, when trout stocks declined. Could this method of "fishing up" in the pelagial fishery for big trout have been a significant contributor to the lake trout's problem, when coupled with sea lamprey attack and excessive net fishing?
In 1891 many fish refuges were established, as were special local fish laws. In 1892, logging commenced on the Brule River, and by 1909 all the virgin timber was gone, and with it went the historic brook trout fishery.
In 1893, the Badger No. 1, our first rail car for distribution of fish, was purchased. Around the turn of the century the first walleye fry were stocked from state facilities at Oshkosh, Woodruff, and Delafield.
During the years between 1875 and 1979, there were no fewer than 38 state hatcheries established throughout the state, some were short lived for a variety of reasons. Special trucks were in use hauling fish from the hatcheries to rail lines for subsequent distribution throughout the state.
Until the turn of the century, conservation efforts in fisheries were directed toward protecting fish populations that were considered threatened by mans' overharvest. Efforts were concentrated on curtailing overharvest and supplementing through stocking those species most in danger of destruction.
In 1895, the legislature authorized a state Fish Commission, composed of eight Commissioners of Fisheries. Bayfield Trout Hatchery was established that year.
During the period from 1893 to 1907, a small group of men, including E.A. Birge and Chauncey Juday, began the first scientific investigations of Wisconsin's natural resources. They were building on the writings of Increase Lapham, John Muir, Thure Kumlein and Carl Schurz, who were our pioneers in conservation.
Early scientific investigation would eventually reach into the area of fisheries management, however, initial concerns dealt with the soils, forests and waters of the state.
As early as 1895 carp stocking stopped because of opposition to the practice. In 1897, the Fish Commission was prohibited from providing fish or spawn to private growers for subsequent stocking unless such fish were planted in waters where the general public enjoyed to rights to fish (public access).
The first bag limit on lake trout was set in 1898, at 25 pounds.
In 1899, the Fish Commission executive committee was authorized to prepare rules and regulations for removal of deleterious fish and to issue permits for this work at the expense of the applicants.
A license system was installed which allowed individuals who wished to harvest carp to be licensed for this purpose. This system was discontinued in 1911, to be followed by contract removal, which persisted until 1935, when the legislature authorized and funded state run operations.
Efforts began in 1899 that would continue to the present to eradicate an
exotic species thought to be a replacement for destroyed native fisheries.
1897 - 1906 Wade vs Willow River Club established that private stream bank ownership was of a qualified character and did not interfere with the character of the stream as public waters. This case firmly established the public's right to fish the waters of the state.
In 1901, the Woodruff Hatchery was established. Private fish hatcheries were first limited by statute in 1905, which indicated they were not allowed on navigable streams or lakes, but were limited to private ponds at "headwaters" or to private streams. At this time tha state did not require licensing. In 1909 the length of affected stream was limited to one mile. Licensing was once again not required.
Intensive experimentation with fishways began in 1907-09. In 1909, a ladder type fishway was placed in a dam near Weyauwega, on the Wolf River, only to be proven unsuccessful.
In 1908 the word "Conservation" replaced "preservation" in matters relating to natural resources. That year, the first Conservation Commission was established. The Commissioners of Fisheries would continue in their capacity until 1915.
In 1909 non-residents (adult males) were first required to purchase a hook and line fishing license. The cost was $1.00.
In 1909, the trout bag limit was 40 per day.
Fish hatcheries were authorized for Sheboygan and Sturgeon Bay in 1911. The state purchased a new railroad car named the Badger No. 2, in 1912, to use in distributing fish throughout the state. The original car was sold to the Canadian government.
In 1912, Conservation Commissioner E.A. Birge wrote a paper on The Regulation of Fisheries, in which he stated: "The position of the state regarding fisheries has gradually, but inevitably, undergone a radical change, so far as its attitude is determined by the support which it gives to the work of the Fish Commission . . . no one thought that the annual crop of our waters would come to be a planted and cultivated crop, as much as (the crop of) our soils. . . . the state has recognized the fact by establishing new hatcheries and by providing the Commission with a constantly increasing income." Birge argued that the state should make a provision for investigation and study similar to that already in place for agriculture.
In 1912, modified ladder type fishways were placed in dams at St. Croix Falls on the St. Croix River, at Kilbourn (Wisconsin Dells) on the Wisconsin River, at Eureka on the Fox River, and again in the Weyauwega dam. None could be called successful.
In 1913, the statutes provided funds for rescuing fish from the landlocked sloughs and bayous adjacent to the Mississippi River. The funds were inadvertently dropped in 1915 but later reinstated.
In the fall a hatchery was completed at Spooner, to begin operations in 1914. That year it produced 36 million fry. The site, building and equipment cost $1,929.14.
Nevin indicated 247,079,876 young fish were planted via 16,000 loaded ten-gallon cans. Every train that connected with Delafield, Oshkosh, Minocqua and Spooner during the spring would carry 20 to 50 ten-gallon cans of fry.
In 1915, a three-man paid conservation commission was created , James Nevin in
Fisheries, W. Barber in Game, F. Moody in Forestry.
One particularly interesting bit of early fisheries experimentation in Wisconsin
was performed in 1916, when personnel at the Bayfield and Nevin Hatcheries used
gasoline and benzine to treat for gill and fin parasites. The experiment was a
A quote by James Nevin from the 1915-1916 biennial report "In my opinion the auto is the great cause in the depletion of fish and game".
Conservationists recognized the value of scientific investigation beginning in
1916 and expanded their efforts beyond regulation and stocking to the conduct
of studies to understand better the resources of concern.
The Commission initiated surveys of lakes and streams in 1916 to determine their suitability for game fish in order to assure to proper distribution of fish from state hatcheries. The survey was performed under the direct supervision of B. Webster, then foreman of the Delafield hatchery, who traveled the state with one assistant. Additional personnel were assigned this duty in 1917.
In 1917, legislature transferred power for closing seasons to the Conservation Commission. (Chapter 23, Wis. Stats., Fish and Game Act)
Rail fish distribution costs were 4 cents per mile in 1917, but were destined to change to 30 cents per mile later that year.
Kingfishers, bitterns and herons, already protected by both state and federal law, were cited in 1917 as a major source of fish loss in hatcheries. Federal law authorized permits to kill birds doing damage, however, state law did not allow this.
By the laws of 1917, the legislature required reporting from private fish hatcheries and permitted inspection and registration, but still not licensing. The term private hatchery was limited to locations at the headwaters and up to one mile of stream on private lands.
Clamming, which started on the Mississippi River about 1895, was already becoming a cause for concern in 1917. Clammers had overharvested some areas and were extending their enterprises to the Rock, Fox, Wolf and Wisconsin Rivers. It was felt that a license would provide funding with which to determine the true extent of the clam resource
In 1919, Wisconsin pioneered the program in the midwest of rearing fish to a larger size before planting. Thus, St. Croix hatchery was constructed in 1919 with facilities to rear both fingerling and larger fish.
In 1919, the non-resident male hook and line fishing license was increased to $2.00 (no trout) and $3.00 (any fish). In 1923 the $2.00 license was eliminated.
In 1930, non-resident women were also required to purchase a license.
In 1920, the Attorney General issued an opinion stating the purpose of the hatchery law was "to encourage the propagation of fish by private enterprise, and ... to propagate fish on private property."
In 1921, the legislature defined the term "private fish hatchery" to include "only private ponds hereafter established, with or without buildings, used for the purpose of propagating fish and located on artificial ponds or lakes." Later that year, the legislature clarified its position by by distinguishing between established and thereafter established hatcheries, and included language for new hatcheries that would permit their establishment in ponds at the headwaters of or within one mile of the headwaters of streams, on land controlled by the owner.
In an article entitled "What Shall we do to Save the Fish for Future Generations?" James Nevin, in 1920-21, wrote the following: "The artificial propagation of fish alone will not save our fish. Undoubtedly the foremost factor in the preservation of game fishes in waters of our states is co-operation and understanding by the general public. Any law that is not favorably recognized by the public can never possibly be a law enforced. The education of the fishing public and particularly the younger generation in matters of conservation and fish life is the basis on which we must build."
In 1923, hatcheries were established at Lakewood, Hayward, and Westfield. 1924 would see establishment of a hatchery at Osceola.
In 1925, the legislature set up an interagency committee on stream pollution with a "generous" budget of $10,000. Additional hatcheries were established in 1927 at Birchwood, Haugen, Brule, and Eau Claire, followed in 1928 by hatcheries at Hebron and Crystal Springs, and in 1929 with the Burlington Hatchery.
In 1927, the legislature passed the Conservation Act, establishing a six member Wisconsin Conservation Commission, and the State Committee on Water Pollution. Our reason for being, as stated in the Conservation Act, is to ". . . provide an adequate and flexible system for the protection, development and use of . . . fish . . .and other outdoor resources of this state." (s.23.09, Wis. Stats.) 1927-36 became the golden age of conservation in Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin President Glenn Frank stated "We have been little more than salesmen of our resources. We must become statesmen of our resources. This is real conservation . ." Two scientific discoveries were listed as significant in the 1927, 28 biennial report. Brown trout milt was found to be active for only 16 seconds after being in water. Treating ponds with iodine about the time young fish began to feed removed all incidence of goitrous conditions in young fish and their growth was observed to be fourfold greater than that of untreated fish.
In the 1928-30 biennial report, the Conservation indicated changes had been made in fish production facilities with the addition of ponds to hold fish for 20 months before they are stocked. There were numerous cooperative rearing ponds during this period. A plea was made for a program to acquire state hunting and fishing grounds because of the increase in "no trespass, no hunting, no fishing" signs throughout the state.
Rough fish eradication was already well established by 1928 using commercial fishers under contract. Approximately 3,000,000 pounds of rough fish were removed each year in 1928-29.
In 1929, numerous additional fish refuges were created and by 1936 there were 334 established. Most were immediately below dams or at other sites where fish congregated and many were year-round refuges.
By 1929, the Commission had compiled a stream and lake survey, begun in 1916, touted as the most complete ever made for the inland waters of the state.
Fish rescue operations on the Mississippi River and below dams on the Fox and other northern rivers were mentioned in 1929 as well. While 95% of these fish were returned to the main channel or upstream impoundments, there is mention of successful transplants of white bass to other waters throughout the state. Mention is also made of rescue operations on flowages in northern Wisconsin, presumably of the Wisconsin river, where water levels vary dramatically throughout the year, stranding thousands of fish.
The Commission also initiated an extensive study of chub populations in Lake Michigan in 1929 in an effort to determine the size mesh that should be employed by commercial fishermen. The study also provided valuable information on other species such as lake trout.
The legislature., for the first time, in 1929, required private fish hatcheries to obtain a permit and provide annual reports.
Previously existing hatcheries were grandfathered in, including those on stream headwaters, but new ones were limited to artificial ponds or artificial lakes. A land economic inventory initiated cooperatively by the Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Conservation Commission in 1928-30 collected among other data, scale samples from representative fish to determine growth rates as an indicator of available food and suitability for stocking (the presumption being that food supply would enhance success of stocking).
Dr. Gross, of Bowdoin College, in the preface to a report on the Wisconsin prairie chicken investigation in 1930, wrote of the fisheries program in Wisconsin: "The fisheries program in Wisconsin has been outstanding primarily because of the spirit of scientific searching with which the work was early imbued. A willingness to investigate and an unwillingness to accept standard practices as the best merely because they are standard, has led to some important discoveries ..."
The 1930-32 biennial report of the Commission contained a recognition of a weakness common to conservation efforts throughout the country. Practically all effort had been expended on fish culture and none on protection and development of fish habitat. The Commission had made a conscious effort, no doubt with the refuge system in 1929, to expand its fisheries program to encompass these efforts as well as propagation.
In 1931, the state established and operated its first successful fishway, at the Rest Lake dam on the Manitowish River in Vilas county. This fishway was identified as a "12 inch conduit" in Department dam records, however,other reports identify it as a "fish elevator" consisting of a fish lock (box) which is transported from the base of the dam to the top by water power. The lock was the invention of Mr. Harry Barr of Ironwood, Michigan.
In 1931, the legislature charged the Commission with making an investigation of
the use of submarine (trap) nets in the commercial fishery in Door county.
From 1932 to 1938, additional hatcheries were established at West Lake, Big
Lake, Mercer, Sayner, Fish Lake, Thunder River, Pelican Lake, Clam Lake, and the
In 1933, the Association of Midwest Fish and Game Commissioners held their first meeting. They were the precursor to the Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference now held each year. States belonging to the organization were North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois. An out-of-state newspaper had submitted a request to the Commission that it once again, in 1933, be allowed to tag fish for purposes of a fishing contest. Permission was denied.
In 1933, CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camps were created to provide jobs and training for young men nationwide, and lake and stream improvement work was initiated with activities such as hydrographic mapping, installing of lake and stream fish structures, and streamside tree and shrub planting. The book was literally being written as these young men worked in the field. Stream improvement projects were administered by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and direct supervision was provided by conservation wardens.
In 1933, the legislature gave the Commission authority to establish seasons for all fish and game, heretofore found in statutes.
In 1933, a resident rod and reel license, for persons over 18 years of age, was required, for $1.00. In 1939, this license allowed for fishing with two or more lines as well as with rod and reel. The general fishing license for residents was first established in 1947 at $1.00. Dr. Edward Schneberger, became the first Ph.D. as well as the first biologist for the Department when he was hired as a biological aid in March, 1934. In 1934, the first Conservation Congress meetings were held. The first meetings (9) considered the Department's game questionnaire. In 1935, fishing regulations were added to the items considered.
In 1934-35 a report prepared by the Department indicated the following major functions formed the Fish Management program; costs are for the year:
Fisheries Administration $14,780
Fish Hatchery Operations $117,500
Distribution of Fish $6,679
Collection of Fish Spawn $11,542
Commercial Fishing (contracts) $25,843
State Rough Fish Removal Operations $33,072
The legislature first funded state run rough fish removal operations in 1935 through a release of $50,000 to the Department by the state emergency board. Rough fish removal amounted to 5-6,000,000 pounds annually by state crews operating out of eight camps.
In the 1930s the scientific community was struggling with ways to study the complex relationships which exist between living organisms and their environment, or ecology. In 1935, Oxford botanist A. G. Tansley introduced "ecosystem" as "... the basic units of nature..." He observed that there was constant interchange within each system, involving both organic and inorganic components. Tansley insisted that human beings were also a part of the ecosystem as evidenced by the impacts of mans' activities. Ecologists believed that they could now study nature mathematically, and hence models were considered which incorporated the tools of physics and chemistry. This signalled a step forward for biologists who chose not to isolate themselves in a single science. Biologists who chose to adopt ecology now gained greater respectability.
With 1936 came the first use of oxygenated fish distribution systems in Wisconsin.
Also, a state cannery was established at Madison in 1936, to produce canned fish for fish food, reducing the cost of food for fish hatcheries. There was a thought that the state could also provide canned fish for the fur farm industry, however, this later failed to materialize.
In 1937, a Biology Division was created, to eventually be under the direction of Dr. Schneberger. One of the early biologists, Lyman Williamson, was actually hired as a fish culturist in the Biology Division at Hayward. Thus, Wisconsin efforts had now established the mechanism for study of the aquatic ecosystem.
The first studies of survival of artificially and naturally propagated trout were made in the late 1930s.
By 1937, Wisconsin hatcheries were handling 17 species of fish. That year, Wisconsin established a national record for state fish propagation, with over one billion fish reared and planted.
By 1938, we had a Fisheries Division with three areas, NE, NW, and Southern, a Biology Division, and a Division of Contract and Commercial Fishing. The Biology Division, under the Chief Biologist, consist of the Northeast, Northwest and Southern area biologists and their assistants. The division was responsible for relationships with the Committee on Water Pollution, Committee on Aquatic Nuisance Control, the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee, the University Lakes and Streams Committee, and Great Lakes research projects. The Fisheries Division, under the Superintendent of Fisheries, had three Area Supervisors and a Commercial Fishing Outlying Waters Supervisor. The Contract and Commercial Fishing Division, under a Superintendent, had responsibility for inland state and contract rough fish removal and canning, supervision of wardens, Mississippi River fishing, and collection and sale of baby lake trout and whitefish.
Fisheries consisted of the following functional areas:
Commercial Fishing (outlying waters)
Biologist (Biology Division)
Lake and Stream Improvement Rescue Operations
Distribution and Transportation
In 1938 we also established for the first time, individual stream or lake stocking quotas through meetings with the conservation warden, area biologist and the fishery area supervisor. Stocking tables were established, however, they had little to do with time of planting and were not a guide as to what size or species would give the best results.
Chief Biologist, Edw. Schneberger, stated the role of the Biology Division as follows:
"As biologists, we seek information on the many phenomena of nature in
relation to fish production in lakes, streams and hatcheries. In the alignment
of programs for experiments, observations and such, the goals is to get the
facts. Our aim is to obtain unbiased, unprejudiced and 'both sides of the
picture' facts. The proof of any theory or idea will come after the facts are
properly accumulated and weighed. In all experiments there must always be a
control lot or group.
The importance of factual data in a proper fish management program cannot be
over stressed and new data will most likely result in some very radical
changes in past propagation and stocking policies."
The 1939 Fisheries Manual indicates Conservation Wardens, in the Department's Law Enforcement Division, supervised lake and stream improvement work, and assisted with posting, providing public information and coordination of local fish stocking efforts.
By 1939, Law Enforcement had already become an important member of the fisheries team in many ways.
In 1939, construction began on the largest walleye and muskellunge hatchery in the state at Spooner. That year also, construction started on the Langlade Trout Hatchery.
In 1941 CCC programs under the direction of WPA terminated.
In 1941 managers first employed chemicals (rotenone) to remove undesirable fish populations, in two lakes in Bayfield County (East Twin and Long). Lewis Posekany, was hired in 1941 as a biologist for the southern area. Following the war, Mr. Posekany was reinstated as biologist for the northwest area, and in 1948 became a river biologist stationed at Black River Falls. For over 30 years, Lewis would be known as the most knowledgeable biologist in Wisconsin on matters relating to stream degradation and protection. During the period from 1939 to 1945 the war effort was such that there is little in the official records of advances in conservation in Wisconsin. Many employees were in the service and records were often not maintained.
In late 1944, all fisheries operations were consolidated under one Division. There were established sections for:
Rough Fish Control,
Great Lakes Commercial Fishing, and
Records and Statistics.
In February, 1944, the Director of the Department, Ed. Vanderwall, issued instructions to the Superintendent of Fisheries, George Sprecher, that "No cooperation will be given to the promotion of fish contests involving the use of tagged fish." He also indicated "No trout eggs are to be imported into this state." "In the event that a shortage of qualified personnel or of funds exists, hatcheries shall be closed on the basis of efficiency of production and also of physical characteristics of the hatchery which would affect the quality of fish produced."
Panfish propagation operations were practically eliminated from the program by 1944. This program had begun along with bass propagation in the thirties, but surveys now indicated there were adequate, or even overabundant, supplies of panfish.
There was recognition in 1945 for a definite fish management policy and a reliable method for maintaining records and cost accounting. The policy, as adopted by the Conservation Commission on November 8, 1946, provided the following major points within three major components, habitat management, regulation of harvest and artificial propagation:
Equal opportunity for all to enjoy fishing,
Fundamental research to improve fish and fishing,
Acquire, protect, and improve habitat,
Propagate and rescue fish to meet the needs for fish,
Engage in rough fish control to meet needs for more desirable fisheries,
Assist and promote commercial fisheries for more consistent supplies,
Properly allocate funds,
Maintain statistics and accounting records,
Cooperate with others, and
Recognize that we are the servants of the people.
By 1946, there were 11 operating rough fish removal camps, harvesting in total over 5,000,000 pounds annually.
The Tri-State Minnow Committee was created in 1946. Later its meetings were to be known as the Tri-State Fishery Conference (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), and as many as 70 individuals attended each year. Annual meetings persisted into the early 1970s, when attendance was limited to a few staff members from each state.
The Five Lakes Experimental Project Area was established in Vilas County in 1946, to study the effect of liberalized fishing regulations. This action had been directed in 1944, "... for the purpose of setting up a reasonable number of lakes for fact finding and experimentation."
In 1946, increased emphasis was placed on stocking of legal or catchable size trout, based on data from research. The Conservation Commission, in 1948, established Fishery Area Coordinator positions to better coordinate field programs.
Aldo Leopold wrote in 1948, "The practice of conservation must spring
from a conviction of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is
economically expedient. A thing is right only when it tends to preserve the
integrity, stability, and beauty of the community, and the community includes
the soil, waters, fauna, and flora, as well as people ..."
Leopold also stated "The balance of nature, following the ecosystem model, is
based on the biotic pyramid." He went on to link the soil to man through
energy flow and a "land ethic".
By 1949 Lake Michigan lake trout were virtually extinct due to sea lamprey predation in combination with the historic overfishing. By the end of that year, sea lamprey spawning was confirmed in at least 79 streams tributary to Lake Michigan. (By 1978 this number would increase to 112.) Sea lamprey depredation was far less significant on Lake Superior, however, by 1978, lamprey spawning was known to occur in at least 147 Superior tributaries. Electromechanical barriers were used extensively in the period from 1950 to 1958 to control sea lamprey, in a program under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The 1948 - 50 biennial report lists an additional section in the Fisheries
Division, Watershed Management, developed to cooperate with the U.S. Soil
Conservation Service, agriculture agencies and local groups to create an
awareness of needs to stabilize stream banks, protect watersheds, and
demonstrate instream habitat improvements.
In 1950, with a budget of only $35,000, fish habitat development was revitalized as a management tool, under the fish management program. Revisions of the private fish hatchery law in 1951 finally referred to public interest in saying "... shall be limited to artificially constructed ponds and lakes and springs or natural landlocked ponds wholly surrounded by the lands of the applicant and where no substantial public interest in such ponds or springs exists."
It was thus obvious that licensing in 1951 was intended primarily for artificial waters or others without substantial public interest. However, the Attorney General went further and concluded that "If it was the contemplation of the legislature to authorize special treatment of navigable pond waters to which the public could not lawfully obtain access, then the legislation is probably valid, but should be interpreted as conferring a privilege subject to public right if access is ever lawfully obtained ... "
In 1951 a Great Lakes Advisory Committee was created to improve relations with commercial fishermen. The committee recommended two sport fishermen also be included in view of the sport fishery.
With the passage of Dingell-Johnson Act in 1951, additional funds were made available for watershed management in Wisconsin, and were primarily used to purchase property along streams and add to the number of habitat improvement demonstration areas.
Electrofishing became a standard process in stream surveys during the 1950s. Rough fish canning continued at least until 1952, when the plant operated at Wisconsin Dells. The addition of thiamine to the canned carp product was necessary to provide an acceptable trout food.
By 1952, the Fish Management Division had grown to 185 permanent personnel. There were 49 fish managers, 21 biologists, 92 conservation aids, 13 maintenance men, 3 mechanics, 3 store keepers, 1 bacteriologist, an account examiner, and an administrative assistant. The use of echo-sounders, electro-fishing apparatus and SCUBA gear added to the survey tools available to managers during this period.
During the 1952-54 biennium the University Cooperative Fishery Research Program was formed. Five projects were announced, with most studies to be conducted on the Madison Lakes. Research Advisory and Steering Committees were established at this time to provide oversight.
In 1952 Fisheries was again reorganized to have 5 areas (later referred to as districts) instead of three. New headquarters were established at already existing Law Enforcement and Game Management offices in Oshkosh and Black River Falls.
Bait harvest laws were changed in 1952 to allow harvest from trout waters, previously prohibited for many years. Private Fish Hatchery law was also changed to allow licensing of waters suitable for bait rearing with no public interest. Administrators were concerned in 1952 that changes in terms of employment, setting a 40 hour work week for non-supervisory, non-technical employees were creating problems delicate and complicated in nature. They felt service to the public would suffer.
In the late 1940s, there was a shift toward liberalization of bass regulations across the country. Wisconsin approached this shift cautiously in 1952 with liberalized regulations for two lakes in southern Wisconsin, Browns Lake in Racine County, and Turtle Lake in Walworth County.
In both instances the season was lengthened to include the spring and the minimum size limit of 10 inches was removed. The results of liberalization on Browns Lake were studied for four years and it was concluded that an increased opportunity to fish was provided anglers without reducing the number of fish available or affecting reproduction during the study period. (Fishing pressure on Browns Lake at this time was approximately 75 hours per acre per year).
While trends toward liberalization of regulations did not change the number of fish available or diminish natural reproduction, it did little to improve the quality of the fishery. This would be proven critical in later years when anglers and biologists alike began looking toward optimum sustainable yield as opposed to the earlier concept of maximum sustainable yield.
In 1953, the legislature established the Natural Resources Committee, as a coordinating body to "... provide a method of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting information and to make recommendations to the several state agencies on matters relating to soils, waters, forests, fish, wildlife and other natural resources of the state ..." and provide a means whereby their efforts might be better coordinated. The Committee was also to become a coordinating agency for watershed management problems.
In 1953, the Delafield Hatchery was converted to a warm water research station. In December of 1953, the Conservation Commission, building on the Wisconsin Fish Policy of 1946, established a Trout Management Policy. The policy recognized the importance of watershed management and that the future of trout fishing in streams would depend to a large extent on natural propagation. The policy evaluated the role of stocking and discredited stocking of legal size fish as an efficient means of producing additional fish to the creel unless it was done where heavy use was anticipated. Even then it was recognized that hatchery trout did not compare favorably with wild trout in color, palatability and ability to survive. Efforts were urged to improve the hatchery product, through better feeds, better brood stock and more efficient hatchery operations. The policy also stated " Whenever or wherever it is possible to maintain adequate stocks of our native brook trout, the introduction of brown trout or rainbow trout is also to be discouraged."
In 1954-56 there were several organizational adjustments to the Fish Management program. Within the division, a research unit was created under the direct supervision of the chief biologist to carry on research in four areas: warm-water fishes, cold-water fishes, fish pathology and nutrition, and Great Lakes and boundary waters. Areas were divided into 15 districts with a trained fish manager in each district. The fish manager would then be in close contact with his constituents and provide more direct and efficient service. Addition of an editor, biometrician, limnologist and assistant area supervisors was also envisioned.
In 1956, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission began its efforts to develop and implement procedures to control sea lamprey in the Great Lakes, develop and coordinate fishery research programs, and advise governments on measures to improve the fisheries. Wisconsin was a key player in the Commission, with then Secretary L.P. Voigt, being appointed one of the original Commissioners.
1956 thus signalled the beginning of one of our most extensive intergovernmental programs to date, with each Great Lake state contributing to the understanding of the Great Lakes fisheries and their management.
In 1956, the Natural Resources Committee of State Agencies published a report on The Natural Resources of Wisconsin. When writing of fishery resources the following was stated: "The science of fish management is a young one. The complete and abiding faith in fish culture as the cure-all for every ill affecting the management of natural waters is slowly giving way to better methods of controlling fish populations. Modern programs such as "lake rehabilitation", "rough fish control","liberalized fishing", and "watershed stabilization" denote the change of emphasis from outmoded practices of simply stocking more fish in a lake and restricting the catch." "Facts have replaced fancy, and experimental methods are replacing arm-chair logic ..."
I began with the Fisheries Management program of the Conservation Department in October, 1956, as part of the rough fish removal crew operating out of a fish camp on Lake Kegonsa, at McFarland. I was fortunate to find lodging at a boarding house in McFarland, operated by the mother of Chet and Fred Brandt, two members of the rough fish crew. I had recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and was able to keep my books at the camp, where I studied in the evening for the biologists exam. My intent was to become a fish biologist with the state.
Work at the rough fish camp consisted on seining carp both in open water and under the ice. At other times we were occupied with net making and repair and with hauling carp to the train stations in Madison and Janesville, for shipment live to markets in Chicago and New York. The rail car we used contained two full length tanks 6-8 ft. deep, which we filled with nearly 40,000 pounds of carp. Commonly, the tanks would contain 8 inches of water when we started and 8 inches of water when we finished loading. An old gentleman rode with the fish to insure the aeration system functioned and fish were iced down throughout the trip. Department records indicate that our rough fish removal operations amounted to 4,000,000 pounds annually in 1954-56.
In 1954-56, Fish Managers had been appointed from the ranks of the biologist staff and field operations crews. Not all Managers had college degrees. Many were previously field crew foremen, very capable in their new role of meeting with the local angling groups and managing the fishery resources in their areas.
In 1957, increased emphasis was placed on use of chemicals for lake rehabilitation. Under Vern Hacker, Area Biologist at Oshkosh, later attached to the Bureau, rehabilitation efforts extended to parts of the Fox and Rock River watersheds. Thousands of acres were rehabilitated with chemicals, commonly rotenone.
A statewide treatment summary for the period from 1941, when chemicals were first applied to a lake in Bayfield County, to 1975, indicates that 377 lakes totalling 50,508 acres were treated.
Tom Wirth, a biologist with the Department, visited commercial fisheries in Pascagoula, MS, in 1957, bringing back new technology for rough fish removal, side trawling. That same year, the Department began trawling to remove rough fish from Lake Winnebago waters.
The legislature first appropriated $35,000 for this program. The program was extended to include streams in 1961. The Department reasoned it was first necessary to conduct a comprehensive inventory of the surface waters of each county. The end result was a series of publications from 1960-1980, entitled The Surface Water Resources of "X" County. The program was under the direction of Bill Threinen, the Assistant Bureau Director for Fish Management at the time. In addition to much field work, primarily limnological in nature, we reviewed the files of each Area Fish Manager for information relating to the fisheries of each lake.
When no information was available, we either set our own nets or relied on local knowledge for insight into the fishery in each lake. Other Lake Classification Biologists or contributing biologists you may recall were Laverne Sather, John Black, Lloyd Andrews, Tom Klick, Ron Piening, Lee Kernen, John Weber and Ron Fassbender.
The data collected by lake classification biologists and their assistants are accessible by computer today as the Master Waterbody File. They still represent the only information available for many of the less significant lakes in the state.
1961 brought ORAP, the Outdoor Recreation Act Program, funded by a tax on cigarettes. In its first 17 months, over 210 miles of frontage along streams and lakes was purchased (most was stream shoreline counted along both banks) and 60 miles were brought under easement. The greatest part of this was for fish management stream improvement and public access, giving a major boost to the program originally funded in 1950 at $35,000, and later supplemented with Dingle-Johnson federal aid in sport fish restoration dollars.
In the fall of 1963, a series of discussions on Issues in Conservation were held at the University of Wisconsin campus in Milwaukee. Bill Threinen from the Fish Management Division, discussed the relationship between water quality, habitat and fish populations. He concluded that elements of the environment and habitat are critical for various species of fish. He referred to "weak links" in the environment citing temperature, fertility, water level changes, state of the plankton, and space as critical links in the fishes life cycle. He stated two objectives for fishery management, perpetuation of the stock and providing the highest production consistent with recreational or commercial desires.
In 1963, spring pond dredging was first initiated. Subsequent studies would indicate the sediments being removed were as much as 13,000 years old in southern Wisconsin and 8,000 years old in northern Wisconsin, paralleling glacial retreat dates in these areas.
During the 1963-65 biennium Department policy on beaver-trout-forest relationships was established, recognizing the complex relationships which exist between these resources.
In the 1963-65 biennium, some 223 lakes were being managed for trout values, many as two-story lakes with both warm and cold water fisheries. In 1964, the Department invited commercial fishers to use trawling to harvest rough fish on Lake Winnebago and chubs on Lake Michigan.
In 1965, the private fish hatchery law was expanded to permit licensing of
natural navigable waters so long as the Department found no substantial public
interest and licensing would not damage public or private rights.
The 1965 amendments to private fish hatchery law signalled encouragement to
private enterprise, by including navigable streams and spring ponds, provided
the Department found no substantial public interest and where licensing would
not damage public or private rights.
A report prepared by the Department in 1966, indicated the following major functions formed the Fish Management program; costs are for 1964-65
Cold Water Operations (propagation) $456,058
Warm Water Operations (propagation) $303,409
Removal and Disposal of Rough Fish $332,852
Investigation and Inventory $354,214
Habitat Development and Maintenance $354,296
Acquisition and Leasing $235,158
Public Waters Access $76,025
Lake Classification and Mapping $93,865
Public Relations $66,876
*Detail was provided for the biennium. Therefore, annual figures are averages.
Fish Management had the largest budget of any program in the Department in 1964-65.
By 1965, chemical rehabilitation efforts essentially replaced the harvesting efforts of rough fish removal crews. The last such crew was discontinued in 1989 with the end of Department trawling operations for sheepshead removal on Lake Winnebago.
By then Department rough fish camps seining carp has been gone for at least 20 years. To the present day, we still continue to issue rough fish removal contracts to individual commercial fishers. In 1995, the Department awarded new contracts for removal of rough fish from 13 waters and renewed an equal number of prior contracts.
In 1967, the last chemical fish removal using toxaphene was conducted, on Kusel Lake in Waushara County. Research conducted by Professor G. Fred Lee, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had concluded that toxaphene produced significant long-term changes in the lakes previously treated. The department continued to employ rotenone for fish rehabilitation projects.
The Wisconsin legislature enacted legislation which limited entry to the Lake Superior commercial fishery in 1967.
In 1968, the old Conservation Department was incorporated into the Department of Natural Resources, when environmental protection functions and traditional resource management functions were combined in one "super" department. The Wisconsin Conservation Commission (and the Resource Development Board) went out of existence July 1, 1968, when the Natural Resources Board was created as the policy-making entity.
As an aside, of four Commission members who were reappointed as Board members, one, Herbert F. Behnke, remained as a Natural Resources Board member until March 22, 1972, and once again became a Board member in 1989, with reappointment extending to 2001.
In 1968, the Bureau of Fish Management underwent some restructuring and I was hired as the Staff Supervisor, Great Lakes and Boundary Waters. Wisconsin first stocked coho salmon in the waters of Lake Michigan in 1968. Previous plants made by Michigan were revealed in concentrations of mature fish off our shore.
With the expansion of the propagation program to include Great Lakes stocking, Wisconsin's trout hatcheries were operating at full capacity. Therefore, in mid-1968 the state contracted for a statewide strategic trout hatchery expansion plan. This plan ultimately resulted in reconstruction of the Bayfield Hatchery in 1971-72.
In 1968, Dr. Jim McFadden, once a research biologist with the Department, gave the keynote address at the American Fisheries Society, in which he raised significant questions: What are our objectives in fisheries management? How do we optimize yield? This began the era of effective fisheries management, management to approach optimum yield (OSY) with a favorable benefit-cost ratio, as opposed to the concept of maximum sustained yield. Wisconsin was quick to embrace this concept, first with respect to Great Lakes commercial fisheries, by fully implementing limited entry.
From 1969 to 1988, an Area Supervisor, later called Area Director, role existed in each of 15 or more management areas. In 1988, District Program Specialists acquired greater authority in a line-staff capacity and provided direct supervision of Area Managers in their individual programs.
In 1970, a fishing license was first required for fishing outlying waters. The resident annual license fee was $3.25. A non-resident daily license for the Great Lakes was provided at $2.25.
In 1971, an informal fish consumption advisory was issued for portions of the Wisconsin River, due to high levels of mercury found in piscivores such as walleye. Fish managers posted significant reaches of the river, alerting anglers.
In 1971, the state legislature formally recognized the Conservation Congress as
an independent organization of citizens serving in an advisory capacity to the
Natural Resources Board.
Fish Management underwent traumatic change between 1972 and 1976. For several years following Director Chuck Lloyd's retirement in December of 1972 we were represented by either an acting director for Fish Management, or by no one.
In July, 1972, temporary assignments were made in the Bureau, creating a staff assistant, five supervisors and an administrative assistant. C.W. Threinen, served in various capacities as an acting Section Chief or as Assistant Bureau Director between 1968 and 1979.
In September of 1974 we became a Section in the Bureau of Fish and Wildlife Management with John Brasch as acting Bureau Director until September of 1975. John Keener followed from 1975 to 1976 as our Bureau Director. That year, we once again became the Bureau of Fish Management, when James Addis was appointed Bureayu Director, October 24, 1976.
In 1973, the resident annual fishing license fee increased to $4.25.
In 1974, the Fish Management program hired Betty Les as the first female fish manager.
By June 30, 1974, Fish Management controlled 69,926 acres of land primarily along trout streams.
In the fall of 1974, the program made the first major effort to survey leopard frog populations. The survey was intended to collect information on fall mortalities. Commercial froggers had observed significant die-offs and theorized that toxic substances in the environment were the cause. The survey was extended in 1975 under cooperative efforts with the Bureau of Research.
During 1974 and 75, an ad hoc Lake Michigan Fisheries Task Force, convened by Department Secretary L.P. Voigt, met to answer questions relating to the concept of limited entry as it might apply to Lake Michigan fisheries. Task Force members included several with strong national level ties to the Great Lakes Fisheries: Jack Hemphill, Regional Director, Fish and Wildlife Service Russell Norris, Regional Director, Nat. Marine Fisheries Service Dr. Stanford Smith, Nat. Marine Fisheries Service Claude Ver Duin, Great Lakes Fishery Commission
The Task Force recommended that access to the commercial Lake Michigan fishery be limited to current licensees, and that criteria for relicensing be established by rule.
Subsequently, in 1977 the legislature passed s. 29.33, Stats., limiting entry to the commercial fishery in outlying waters of Wisconsin, incorporating provisions that had only pertained to Lake Superior in a comprehensive law applying to the waters of both Superior and Michigan, and making Wisconsin one of very few inland states to limit entry to commercial fisheries at that time.
Concurrently, legislation established Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Commercial Fishing Boards, with the responsibility to establish systems to allocate catch quotas among fishermen for those species for which overall catch quotas had been established by the state, and to assist the Department in establishing criteria for identifying inactive licensees.
In 1976, the Fisheries program was party to the issuing of the first formal fish consumption advisory by the state Division of Health. Thus began a series of advisories continuing to the present, identifying those species and sizes of fish sibject to consumption advisories in various waters of the state. The focus is on levels of mercury and PCBs.
In October, 1976, Jim Addis was appointed Director for the Bureau of Fish Management, with Bill Threinen as Deputy Director. Addis held this position until 1987, when he became the Division Administrator for Resource Management. In 1976-77, workshops involving fish managers from across the state were initiated. Their goal was to document the current state of the fishery in biological terms, and provide management proposals to address the future.
Thus, in 1976, also began the systematic compilation of biological data by species in a computerized database format.
In 1978, the Trout Stamp was established at $2.50. Funds were to supplement existing expenditures for trout stream habitat improvement.
Administrative rules implementing limited entry were incorporated in Wisconsin Administrative code in 1979.
In 1979, a long range strategic plan entitled "Management Strategies 1979-85" was developed as part of Wisconsin's Fish and Wildlife Comprehensive Plan under Secretary Tony Earl. This plan set the stage for management based on sound biological principles and new management and administrative techniques. The plan utilized the findings and recommendations from the earlier species workshops. It recognized the need for our concerted cooperative efforts if we were to manage these resources responsibly, and prompted thinking about the way we were organized at the Bureau level.
Restructuring eliminated Deputy Bureau Director positions in 1981, when the Bureau of Fish Management was reorganized to have a section for Great Lakes and Boundary Waters and a section for Inland Fisheries and Investigations, with a separate office for Budget and Program Analysis. This organization persisted until October of 1987, when we reorganized with Fisheries Management, Operations, and Administrative sections. This structure remains in place, pending further change with the 1996 Department-wide reorganization.
In 1982, the Great Lakes Trout and Salmon Stamp was established at $3.25. Funds were to be used to stock the Great Lakes and administer the program. In 1983 and 84 an ad hoc Great Lakes Fisheries Task Force was convened to address management costs and identify alternative methods of obtaining fair share revenue from those groups who benefit from the Great Lakes fishery management program. This was clearly a response to sport fishing interests who felt license revenue from commercial fishermen fell far short of that needed to provide an adequate commercial fishery management system. The result was a new commercial fee schedule in 1986.
Also, in the 1983-85 biennium, the Department initiated an urban fishing program in the Milwaukee metropolitan area. This program provides fishing in urban ponds, most in local parks, for anglers who don't have opportunities to leave the urban environment. The program utilizes rainbow trout and other species to provide seasonal and year-round fishing opportunities. Many of the ponds are used by volunteer groups to conduct kids fishing clinics. In 1984, the resident annual fishing license increased to $7.50, daily Great Lakes increased to $6.00.
In 1984, we initiated the Fish Management Reference Book, containing printed material representing the database begun in 1976.
Beginning in 1984, a Wisconsin aquaculture study committee began meeting as an interagency, university, industry group to draft a state aquaculture plan. This action was requested in the National Aquaculture Act of 1980. These efforts were solidified by Governor's executive order in 1986, requesting cooperation between state agencies and the university in this endeavor. The committee documented current aquacultural activity, examined potential for future development as a food and recreational resource, and identified major barriers to further development.
Treaty-secured fishing rights in northern Wisconsin and the resultant spearing of walleyes which began in 1985, provided an opportunity to learn more about our walleye and muskellunge fisheries. Wisconsin now has the most comprehensive database for walleye management available in the country. We now manage for both tribal and non-tribal fisheries on the basis of current information which generates total allowable harvest levels for each body of water subjected to the two fisheries.
Beginning in 1985, species-specific workshops were initiated, wherein the desires of both anglers and managers were combined to form common goals and objectives for management. The result has been modern, more widely accepted regulations. Our customers were now actively involved in the formulation of management decisions. They became stake holders and supporters of the program through this active involvement.
During Jim Addis's tenure, about 1987, our name was changed to the Bureau of Fisheries Management to reflect our management of both the fish resources and the fisheries (people who fish).
Since 1987, using funds from the Sport Fish Restoration Program (SFR) we have been instrumental in the development of more than 50 fishing piers scattered throughout Wisconsin, providing fishing opportunities to persons with disabilities, elderly or young anglers, and anglers without boats. In 1994 alone, 8 piers were developed.
From 1987 to 1995, we developed or assisted with development of more than 160 boat launching facilities throughout the state using SFR funds. Launch sites provide additional fishing opportunities and ensure that available access is maintained in as serviceable condition as possible. During calendar year 1994, SFR funded completion of 19 public boat access projects.
An aggressive aquatic resources education program, initiated in 1987, incorporating junior and master angler skills programs and numerous media materials, as well as displays at Department facilities, has created an awareness among our anglers of the need to protect our aquatic resources for future generations.
In 1988, the resident annual fishing license fee increased to $9.10.
In 1988, Wisconsin Aquaculture: A State Plan, was published. Within the plan were recommendations that:
1) Private aquaculturists should be more proactive in political and economic spheres to improve their competitiveness in markets,
2) The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) should do more to promote aquaculture as an expanded source of food,
3) DATCP and the Department of Natural Resources expand their coordination efforts relating to DNR's environmental management and regulatory role and DATCP's role in promoting environmentally acceptable expansion of aquaculture.
4) DATCP should appoint an interagency advisory council to advise agencies of problems,
5) DNR should make a positive stance toward private aquaculture as part of agency policy,
6) DNR should evaluate a policy of acquiring fish and fish eggs from lowest cost sources subject to necessary constraints on characteristics and quality of the fish thus acquired,
7) DNR should review its licensing and permitting procedures to insure opportunities for growth, and otherwise encourage private aquaculture in ways consistent with the agency's mandate to protect the environment and manage the resources of the state for all users,
8) Outreach programs of all agencies should be reviewed to assure they are adequate to meet the needs of state aquaculturists, and
9) Support for research directed toward aquaculture should be expanded.
From April, 1989, until February, 1990, Douglas Morrissette was Director of the Bureau of Fisheries Management.
In 1989, the Delavan Lake Watershed Project began. It was considered one of the largest fish eradication projects in the United States, but more importantly, was an integrated resource management project. This project involved state, federal and local governments, in efforts to manipulate the fish population, to recreate the desirable fish populations, which had existed prior to 1950, and enhance water quality.
Beginning in 1990, we altered the format of trout fishing regulations and the regulations pamphlet, so that trout anglers can feel more confident the resource is adequately managed and have more easily understood regulations. Regulations are now tailored to the capabilities of each stream.
In August, 1990, Lee Kernen was appointed as Director of the Bureau of Fisheries Management, and served in that capacity until March, 1996. In 1991, strategic planning was carried one step further, when 6-year plans were developed by the managers in each area. These plans, in company with a more recent strategic Fisheries plan called Fish 2000, should provide the basis for our Fisheries Management efforts for the years to come.
Since 1991, we have embraced several new management techniques, all intended to create new partnerships for more responsive, efficient resource management. These techniques might best be described as new ways of doing business; Facilitated Workshops, Team Action, Focus groups, Total Quality Management, etc.
In 1992, the annual resident fishing license fee increased to $12.00. In terms of inflated monetary value, the license in 1973 ($4.25) cost twice as much as the license in 1992.
In 1992, the Fisheries Management Bureau hired its first environmental toxicologist, Candy Schrank, signalling new interest in environmental contaminants and their effects on fish and fisheries.
Beginning in 1992, we initiated a new, comprehensive database system for fisheries in Wisconsin. When fully implemented (4-5 years) this database will be readily available to the public.
Since 1992, we have been working with the private aquaculture industry toward modernizing licensing and permitting procedures and rules. These efforts have continued into 1996, initially through the liaison activities of David Ives; more recently (1995) this function was transferred to Ron Poff.
Since 1992, we have renovated cool water fish production facilities at Lake Mills, Winding Creek, Woodruff, and Spooner at a cost of approximately $16.5 million, to assure that walleyes and muskellunge are available for stocking for years to come.
In 1993, the Fisheries Management Program reported ownership of 95,332 acres in eight different program elements in the following order of magnitude: fishery areas, remnant habitat, statewide habitat, spring ponds, public access, hatcheries, stream bank protection, and small lakes. This represented nearly a 50% increase over the acreage reported in 1974.
By 1993, virtually all major Great Lakes species subject to commercial fishing were under quota-controlled fishing. This was the key measure to make limited entry commercial fisheries function as anticipated. In 1994, a landmark case relating to licensing natural navigable lakes as private fish hatcheries further elaborated on "substantial public interest" when conclusions were issued relative to the public Trust Doctrine's application in this case. The judge stated "While the lack of access and use by the public of public waters supports the issuance of a private fish hatchery license under the statute, residual public rights exist which can be protected by the imposition of reasonable conditions on the license." This case established a basis for issuing conditioned private fish hatchery licenses, however, it remains for administrative rules to elaborate further on this authority.
A new publication, in the form of a three-ring binder to which pages can be added, providing maps and access site information in an easy to interpret form was initiated in 1994. The document will be amended annually to include all pier and boat access projects completed thus far.
New salmon harvest and egg-taking facilities have been developed at Kewaunee(1993) and Racine(1994), to assure future egg sources for the Great Lakes trout and salmon fishery.
The Great Lakes now sustain sport fishing throughout the year, with in-lake fisheries and anadromous fish runs in both Spring and Fall. This has been accomplished through stocking programs using selected strains of steelhead (rainbow trout).
A survey of fisheries positions throughout the state in 1993-94 resulted in significant upgrades to most positions, with resultant increases in pay. Our fisheries positions, both professional and technical, are now more competitive with our neighboring states in terms of salary and progressions in pay. This was a major effort by personnel at all levels, and will insure we continue to draw the most qualified individuals into our program.
We now regulate bass, walleye, and muskellunge sport harvest on the basis of the capabilities of specific waters to produce desirable fish through graduated size and bag limits. Waters that can produce trophies are managed to do so. Often this approach requires that individual waters are placed in size limit categories for each species. In 1996, "the year of the bass" will focus our management efforts on enhancing bass fishing through new regulations, in some instances tailored to the capabilities of individual lakes.
For the 1993-95 biennium, expenditures in the fisheries management program were identified within the following major functional areas. Costs are annual expenditures:
Fisheries Development (habitat improvement) $1,194,000
Propagation (both cold and warmwater) $4,377,000
Public Access (boat and non-boat access) $1,376,000
Evaluations and Surveys $2,441,000
Bureau Services $914,000
Treaty Assessment $966,000
Division Issues (integrated management) $1,669,000
Land Acquisition $1,500,000
Basic Program Services $3,401,000
In 30 years the budget for Fisheries Management had grown 6.4 fold. Increases in program revenue through new licensing requirements, increases in standard fees, the stamp programs for Great Lakes and trout streams, and increased federal aid through the Sport Fish Restoration Program made this growth possible. More importantly, the budget now addressed treaty fishing and division integrated issues, and a bureau services budget now existed to fund some annually recurring costs, i.e. regulations publication, cooperative university research contracts with the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. Lake classification and rough fish removal were no longer valid functions.
By July, 1994, the Fisheries Management Program controlled 196,992 acres of land primarily along trout streams, with a significant portion in easements.
The nature of the fishery has changed. Competitive angling, grew dramatically all over the country in the 1980s, and Wisconsin was not immune from this change in fishing. In 1994, the Department adopted rules establishing a fishing tournament permit system, giving fish managers an opportunity to set basic conditions for tournament anglers, as to where may not fish and how their catch is to be handled.
In 1995, the Department was given authority to establish rules limiting participation in designated ponds to children and elderly anglers. Rules are being instituted in 1996 under this authority. Spooner Hatchery becomes operational in 1996, as the latest of the major hatchery renovation projects.
In March, 1996, Bureau Director, Lee Kernen, was appointed as Director of the Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Protection. Traditional fisheries management has had highly visible strategic and operational elements. Managers work with the public to develop new management strategies. Field technicians and aquaculturists work with cooperators to survey fisheries, rear and distribute fish, develop habitat, develop access, and provide educational experiences to both experienced and new anglers. Managers and technicians alike attend both scientific and technical meetings to hone their skills and discuss Wisconsin's program with others in similar positions in other states.
Throughout the history of fish management in Wisconsin, there have been companion roles for both professional biologist/managers and technicians in the program. Early efforts in aquaculture depended on the experiments of biologists no less than the efforts of the fish farmers themselves. The fish health specialists of today are also an integral part of our fish propagation efforts. The scientifically based surveys and investigations that drove the stocking program in the early years depended no less on the assistance of field technicians than do the sophisticated surveys of today that evaluate regulations and stocking and drive our management efforts. The managers who experimented on habitat improvement with the help of field crews in the earlier years still rely on their expertise in placement of habitat devices today.
The elements of a sound fisheries management program have been identified in many of our planning documents and budget proposals. The following are considered the "tools of the trade":
Land Acquisition for Access and Habitat,
Development of Access and Habitat,
Data Acquisition and Analysis, and
Public Information and Education.
The Conservation Act set a noble course for us. "... provide a flexible system to protect, develop and use ... the resources... ". At times we have focused our attention on Protection, at other times on Development, and assuredly on Use, since users pay the bills. Management is something like riding a teeter-totter, too much protection provides too little use, too much development provides too little protection. Aldo Leopold said conservation is wise use, and as fish managers we have tried to balance the teeter-totter as wisely as we know how.
But, for the present, there is renewed emphasis being placed on holistic management which once again integrates the thinking of classical fish managers with that of others in related natural and physical sciences. It has now become as important to protect the water as to protect and enhance the fish populations, and the two goals are at times contradictory because of the technologies employed.
It has become even more important to protect the "ecosystem" which exists as an imperfect continuum, often defying definition. Are we protecting the water, the fish, the ecosystem, from us or for us? Let's check with Aldo Leopold.
Beginning in 1996, many traditional fisheries management policy initiatives will be contained in a new Bureau of Fisheries Management and Habitat Improvement, in the new Water Division. Other fisheries related initiatives, like land acquisition and development, and land and facilities maintenance, will move to a new Land Division. Field fisheries managers, responsible for implementing policy, will become part of Basin Teams, to ensure that their management activities are evaluated by an integrated team of specialists concerned with all aspects of natural resource management and protection in a particular geographic region.