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Decree allowing gillnets in more places takes effect

ALPENA — A controversial new agreement between the state and Native American tribes that allows tribes to use gillnets in more areas of the Great Lakes is now in effect, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Friday.

The new Great Lakes Fishing Decree will remain in effect for the next 24 years, the DNR said. The decree spells out who can fish where, when, and how, and what can be brought home or sold.

“Anglers may see nets in locations they are not used to,” Nick Torsky, a supervisor within the DNR Great Lakes Enforcement Unit, said in a statement. “It is important to review the updated maps within the decree to understand where commercial fishing nets may be located. Being careful and vigilant for commercial fishing nets while on the water is critical to public safety.”

Approved Aug. 24 by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, the decree protects the fishing rights of five tribes — the Bay Mills Indian Community, the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians — that were first spelled out in the 1836 Treaty of Washington.

The federal court first upheld those fishing rights four decades ago, requiring the state and tribes to work out a “co-management framework” for Great Lakes fishing, the DNR said.

The latest decree is the third since 1985.

The agreement has riled many anglers because of the provision allowing the tribes to use gillnets in more parts of Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior.

Gillnets catch large numbers of fish by the gill and suffocate the fish, meaning most fish die in the nets. Any fish not legally permitted to be used or sold will die and later be discarded, officials said.

Many anglers have worried about the gillnets depleting the fish population for commercial and recreational anglers.

U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, in a January letter urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to reexamine the decree to address such concerns.

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