The changes to the rifle proposal and statewide sunfish bag limit were not approved by the Natural Resources Commission.
THE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMISSION DID NOT APPROVE THE CHANGES TO THE RIFLE PROPOSAL OR THE SUNFISH BAG LIMIT.
The Natural Resources Commission did not approve the proposed change to the rifle cartridges for deer hunting, the aggregate statewide bag limit for sunfish (such as bluegill), or the elimination of getting written permission to take coyotes from the landowners. So – the rifle cartridges allowed during the deer firearms seasons will remain the same as in the past, with the exception of not allowing full metal jacketed bullets.
The other rule changes were given final adoption and can be seen here.
The rule changes took effect on July 15, 2015.
Below is a summary of the changes:
312 IAC 9-1-5.3: Removes the word “traverse” to allow additional types of crossbows to be used.
312 IAC 9-1-12: Makes a technical correction to 312 IAC 9-1-12 to clarify the definition of “possession”
312 IAC 9-2-4: Combines language from 312 IAC 9-2-4 and 312 IAC 9-2-5 governing the restrictions on the placement of traps to clarify requirements
312 IAC 9-3-2: Changes the urban deer zone license to a deer reduction zone license to be consistent with proposed language changes in 312 IAC 9-3-4 and requires check station operators to check-in deer using the DNR’s electronic harvest reporting system. Changes to the licensing system are in the process, and retailers will be able to check-in deer and turkey for hunters through a system similar to the current licensing system
312 IAC 9-3-3: Makes the following changes governing deer hunting equipment:
- Allows the 28-gauge shotgun to be used during the firearms seasons and the special antlerless season. Twenty-eight (28) gauge deer slug ammunition is now available and allowing these firearms will provide deer hunters another choice of firearm with which to hunt deer.
- Clarifies that handguns currently legal to use during the firearms season are legal even if originally designed and registered as a rifle. This would clarify that a rifle that can be changed to be used as a handgun can be used during deer firearms season as long as it meets requirements for legal handguns.
- Allows firearms to be used during the deer reduction (formerly urban deer zone) season, where legal to discharge a firearm, from the first Saturday after November 11 through January 31 of the following year. Use of firearms in deer reduction zones would give communities greater flexibility to manage deer-related problems and should improve deer-harvest success rates.
- Changes the dates for placing tree or ground blinds on state and federal properties to noon on September 15 through January 10
- Allows those who place on tree stands or ground blinds on state and federal properties to identify it with their Indiana DNR-issued Customer ID number or name and address, instead of requiring only their name and address. This ID number is pretty short and would add a degree of privacy to hunters without interfering with law enforcement validation of the users.
312 IAC 9-3-4: Makes the following changes to the deer season dates and bag limits:
- Allows a youth hunter to take one antlerless deer in an “A” county (such as Tipton County) during the special youth deer season. This would allow youth hunters additional opportunities in those counties and should have little effect on an “A” county’s deer population.
- Allow the adult who accompanies a youth hunter to carry a handgun in accordance with state law. This would comply with state law (Indiana Code 35-47-2), which allows an individual to carry a handgun while hunting lawfully.
- Renames Urban Deer Zones to Reduction Zones.
- Modifies boundaries for these zones by allowing them to be established annually by the DNR Director in a temporary rule. Adding or removing deer-reduction zones on an annual basis would give the DNR more flexibility to address deer density conflicts and to respond to disease threats.
- Increases bag limit of antlerless deer in these areas.
312 IAC 9-3-9: Allows additional species of wild animals to be kept for personal use if found dead or die following a collision with a motor vehicle. A permit is required by the DNR, but these species would be allowed to be kept for personal use (such as for their meat) if found dead, as long as they have a permit issued by the DNR.
312 IAC 9-3-15: Makes several changes governing the following species of wild animals that are causing damage or causing a health or safety threat: raccoons, skunks, opossums, beavers, muskrats, red foxes, gray foxes, mink, long-tailed weasels, gray squirrels and fox squirrels:
- Allows resident landowners and tenants to designate another person (such as a relative, friend, neighbor, or employee) in writing to take these animals for them outside the season and without a permit as long as there is no compensation of any kind. This would allow landowners and tenants to have others (i.e., friends, neighbors, relatives) assist in the removal of the animal and not require the person to have a permit when doing so without compensation. Thousands of wild animals are a nuisance each year. They need to be dealt with as quickly as possible without delays from having to get a permit.
- Allows these animals to be taken without a permit if the animal is causing or threatening to cause damage to property or posing health or safety threat to persons or domestic animals. Taking the wild animal while it is damaging property is difficult, and some animals need to be removed for health or safety reasons. This language is also consistent with the administrative code in 312 IAC 9-10-4 that allows wild animals to be taken under a nuisance wild animal control permit.
- Requires individuals who take a wild animal under this section to use legal methods (including legal foothold traps and snares) when taking these animals.
312 IAC 9-3-16: Establishes hunting hours for rabbits on DNR fish & wildlife areas, Salamonie Lake, Mississinewa Lake, and Patoka Lake during the month of February (only) from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour before sunset. The Division of Fish & Wildlife manages approximately 156,000 acres for wildlife habitat and provides 36,000 upland game hunting efforts annually. Assume that the average upland game hunter can cover 30 acres in one day. That translates to 1.1 million acres of upland game hunting efforts on those 156,000 acres. Given this intense pressure on a limited land area, this would reduce pressures on rabbit populations and their habitat on fish & wildlife areas during late winter, a time that presents the greatest survival challenges for many species.
312 IAC 9-3-18.6: Makes the following changes governing wild pigs:
- Prohibits the use of dogs to chase or take wild pigs; allow only state and federal wildlife management agencies to use dogs. The prohibition on using dogs to take wild pigs would prevent wild pigs from being pushed into new areas when being chased by dogs.
- Prohibits assisting in the release of a wild pig.
- Clarifies that Heritage or Heirloom breed pigs that are possessed, bred, and sold strictly for farming or medicinal purposes are exempt from restrictions on the possession, importation, and sale of wild pigs. Heritage or heirloom breed pigs that are of Eurasian origin and used only for food, exhibition, or medicinal purposes meet the Indiana Administrative Code’s definition of wild pig, which was not the rule’s intent.
312 IAC 9-4-8: Makes the following changes governing the hunting of Ring-necked Pheasants:
- Prohibits pheasant hunters in designated pheasant put-and-take areas from harvesting game animals except pheasants on days when pheasants are released and hunted; this restrictions will be only for these pheasants hunters and only in their designated units. Restricting Put/Take pheasant hunters from harvesting other animals will protect upland game during a week-long period of intense hunting pressure.
- Limits birds to cocks only in put-and-take areas on Pigeon River, Willow Slough, and Winamac fish & wildlife areas. Willow Slough, Winamac, and Pigeon River fish & wildlife areas have resident wild pheasants. The harvesting of only cock pheasants would protect hen pheasants and promote a better condition for natural reproduction on these areas. Beginning in 2015, only cock pheasants will be released on these FWAs during the put-and-take hunts.
- Removes Crosley Fish & Wildlife Area from properties that offer put-and-take pheasant hunts. Crosley FWA no longer participates in Put/Take pheasant hunting.
312 IAC 9-4-9: Changes the daily bag limit for bobwhite quail on fish & wildlife areas, Salamonie Lake, Mississinewa Lake, and Patoka Lake to two (2) in the North Zone and four (4) in the South Zone. The Division of Fish & Wildlife manages approximately 156,000 acres for wildlife habitat and provides 36,000 upland game hunting efforts annually. Assume that the average upland game hunter can cover 30 acres in one day. That translates to 1.1 million acres of upland game hunting efforts on those 156,000 acres. By reducing the daily bag limit on these managed lands, protection would be provided to a wildlife population under extreme hunting pressure on a fixed land area as described above. This also would distribute the harvest among fish & wildlife area hunters so that many hunters harvest a few birds instead of a few hunters harvesting many birds.
312 IAC 9-4-10: Suspend the ruffed grouse season statewide.
Ruffed grouse is projected to drop below “viable population levels” within the next couple of years in portions of its existing range in south central Indiana. Annual roadside surveys continue to find little or no presence of ruffed grouse in many stops along control routes. No drumming male ruffed grouse were heard on the 14 roadside survey routes (15 stops/routes) during the 2013 survey period and only one grouse has been heard on these routes in four years. The five-year (2009-2013) mean drumming index for the control routes was less than 0.01 drummers per stop (about 1 drummer heard every 190 stops), which is less than 1 percent of levels recorded during the peak years of 1979-81. For the eighth consecutive year, no drumming activity centers were located on the Maumee Grouse Study Area where population monitoring began in the early 1960s. Advancement of forest succession (maturity) is a major reason for decline of the ruffed grouse. Prospects for a population recovery are dismal and extirpation seems possible.
312 IAC 9-4-11: Makes the following changes governing the hunting of wild turkeys:
- Makes the firearm portion of fall turkey season up North (Dekalb, LaGrange, LaPorte, Marshall, St. Joseph, Starke, and Steuben counties) the same length as Southern counties. The fall archery/firearms season currently is seven days shorter in northern counties than southern counties. This would make the two consistent. Participation in fall turkey season is relatively low. The number of additional birds taken during the seven extra days (which adds one weekend) would allow additional hunter opportunity without negatively impacting the turkey population.
- Requires hunter orange for fall turkey hunting when it coincides with the locations and dates of the special deer antlerless season (Dec. 26 through the first Sunday in January). This would be consistent with current rules that currently require fall turkey hunters to wear hunter orange during times that coincide with deer hunters being able to hunt with a firearm.
312 IAC 9-5-6: Makes the following changes governing the taking of game turtles and game frogs:
- Game Turtles (Eastern snapping turtle, spiny softshell turtle, and smooth softshell turtle): Establishes a season (July-March), changes the daily bag limit to four (4) per species (possession limit of 8 per species), and restricts the size that can be taken to only those with a carapace length over 12 inches. Turtle populations are under pressure worldwide, with 41 percent of recognized species currently threatened with extinction and at least eight species extirpated, according to the International Union of Conservation Nature and Natural Resources Red List. Habitat destruction and capture for the pet and food trades remain the top reasons for this continuing decline. Mounting evidence indicates long-lived organisms like turtles cannot sustain continuous harvest of reproductive females without population declines. Given these factors, the current season, bag limit and possession limit for Eastern snapping turtles and softshell turtles in Indiana are believed to be unsustainable.
- Game Frogs (Bullfrogs and Green frogs): Allows the use of an air rifle to take game frogs, with a definition of legal air rifles that could be used. Air rifles are becoming more common and can be an efficient means of taking game frogs. A .22 loaded with bird shot is already legal to use to take these species.
312 IAC 9-5-7: Clarifies that the first generation hybrids of native reptiles and amphibians are included in the prohibition governing the sale of native species.
312 IAC 9-6-1: Adds the following definitions governing fishing: artificial lure, bait, fly, hook, minnow, pole and line, stone moroko, sunfish, wels catfish, and zander. Most of these definitions are needed to clarify terms. The definition of “Minnow” is required since the state law changed in 2013 to require a definition in administrative rule; a temporary rule is currently in place, but a permanent rule is needed. The species of fish included in the definition of “minnow” are common species captured and used as bait.
312 IAC 9-6-7: Makes the following changes governing exotic fish:
- Adds the following to the list of species that are illegal to possess: stone moroko, zander, and Wels catfish. These three species have undergone rigorous screening by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All show a history of invasiveness throughout the world and a climate match with Indiana. This means they would likely survive in Indiana if allowed to be introduced.
- Requires exotic fish that are possessed to either have their head removed, be eviscerated, or have gill arches removed from one side to ensure they are not capable of living (since live possession is not allowed). The current rule says exotic fish cannot be possessed alive; however, there is no clear enforceable definition that declares a fish dead. Some species, particularly Asian carp, are caught live and moved around while on ice. Iced Asian carp have been known to “come back to life” after being put in the water. The rule lists a choice of options that could be taken to assure fish like these are not able to survive.
312 IAC 9-6-9: Changes the name of the northern cavefish to the Hoosier cavefish. New genetic research has differentiated the species that lives in Indiana from the Northern cavefish and it has been given a new scientific name.
312 IAC 9-7-1: Clarifies the bodies of water where a fishing license is required to be consistent with state law in IC 14-22-11-8. These are not new requirements.
312 IAC 9-7-2: Makes the following changes governing sport fishing methods, except on the Ohio River:
- Allows three hooks to be used on a sport fishing line instead of two. Clarifies that umbrella (Alabama) rigs and other similar devices can be used with no more than three hooks that have live bait or three artificial lures, or a combination of both. This is currently authorized by temporary rule and a permanent rule is needed. These changes clearly allow the use of umbrella rigs and similar devices and limit the number of hooks or artificial lures allowed on each device, while also increasing the number of hooks from 2 to 3 on all sport fishing lines.
- Allows anglers to place their Indiana DNR-issued Customer ID number or the name and address of the user on trot lines, limb lines, freefloat lines, and tip-ups, as well as ice fishing shelters. This ID number is pretty short and would add a degree of privacy to anglers without interfering with law enforcement validation of the users.
- Establishes a restriction on hooks used when fishing near Williams Dam (from the dam to the Huron and Williams Road bridge in Lawrence County) from March 15 through April 20. This would protect spawning, endangered lake sturgeon from angler pressure by restricting the hook size to one that lake sturgeon can break free from if hooked. This regulation would only be required for a five-week period in early spring, which is when spawning lake sturgeon are present below Williams Dam.
312 IAC 9-7-4: Changes the minimum size limit from 36 inches to 44 inches for muskellunge and tiger muskellunge on Lake Webster, Backwater Lake, and Kiser Lake (all in Kosciusko County).
Lake Webster, along with its interconnected waters (known as Backwater Lake and Kiser Lake), is Indiana’s broodstock source for capturing adult muskellunge and procuring eggs to support the DNR’s statewide muskie stocking program. Although the catch rate of adult muskies captured each spring during egg-taking has not declined, some evidence suggests fewer young muskies are surviving due to a variety of possible factors. Muskie fishing in Indiana depends entirely on stocking. Increasing the minimum size limit to 44 inches could help alleviate the effects of a potential decline in muskie recruitment.
312 IAC 9-7-6: Makes the following changes governing black bass:
- Changes the size limit to the statewide 14-inch minimum size limit Dogwood Lake in Daviess County. (It is 15 now at this lake) This would align Dogwood Lake with statewide bass regulations. Dogwood is one of only two lakes where the bass population is managed with a 15-inch minimum size limit. This was originally done to protect 14- to 15-inch bass when the 12- to 15-inch slot limit was successfully lifted in 1998. There is no longer a management need to protect bass in the 14- to 15-inch size range.
- Allows only two largemouth bass to be taken per day on Kunkel Lake in Wells County. They must be at least 18 inches long. Kunkel Lake is a 25-acre impoundment in Ouabache State Park near Bluffton (Wells County). It was drained in 2013 to remove an undesirable population of small bluegill, black and white crappie, and carp. The fishery had deteriorated in part due to insufficient numbers and sizes of largemouth bass, the lake’s primary predator. Failure to maintain predatory control over carp, an abundant population of rusty crayfish, and excessive bluegill and crappie recruitment led to declines in habitat quality (turbid water) and low angler use. The lake is scheduled to be restocked in early 2014 with bluegills, largemouth bass, redear sunfish and channel catfish to restore balance. Unless action is taken to provide a strong measure of long-term protection of largemouth bass from harvest, predatory control will again be lost and the lake likely would revert to its previous condition.
312 IAC 9-7-9: Adds a 9-inch minimum size requirement to harvest crappie at Dogwood Lake in Daviess County and Hardy Lake in Scott County. Research indicates that a 9-inch minimum length limit on crappie at Hardy and Dogwood lakes should improve crappie fishing and make these standout lakes in Indiana.
312 IAC 9-7-12: Makes the following changes governing Walleye/Sauger/Saugeye:
- Establishes a 16-inch minimum size limit for walleye north of State Road 26 on all public waters (lakes, impoundments, rivers, and Lake Michigan) with the exception of these lakes: Lake George (Steuben County), Bass Lake (Starke County), Simonton Lake (Elkhart County), Wolf Lake (Lake County), and Wall Lake (Steuben County). Indiana’s walleye fishing depends on hatchery stockings. Walleye abundance in northern Indiana has increased over the years with the help of larger (and more expensive) hatchery fingerlings. Anglers stand to get more out of these stockings if the fish are allowed to grow larger before they are taken home. The region of Indiana north of State Road 26 contains all the sites where the larger fingerling walleye are currently being stocked. SR 26 runs in a relatively straight line from Illinois to Ohio, which offers a reasonable dividing line. Exceptions to a 16-inch minimum size limit would include lakes with documented slow growth of walleye or other special regulatory needs. The rest of Indiana’s public waters (except the Ohio River) would remain regulated by a 14-inch walleye size limit.
- Eliminates the minimum size limit for saugeye on all waters statewide, except for Huntingburg Lake (Dubois County) and Sullivan Lake (Sullivan County). Hybrid walleye (saugeye) are a walleye-sauger cross. They are hatchery produced and stocked at two southern Indiana lakes where they perform better than either parent. Like walleye, saugeye are regulated with a 14-inch size limit. While walleye and saugeye are easily distinguished from one another, saugeye (14-inch limit) and sauger (no size limit) look much alike, especially when small. Further, saugeye can be produced in the wild when walleye and sauger naturally crossbreed. Therefore, it is suggested to regulate saugeye like sauger – with no size limit – except at the two lakes where they are being stocked and managed (Sullivan and Huntingburg lakes).
- Adds sauger to the aggregate bag limit for walleye and saugeye (does not include the Ohio River). This would simplify regulations to combine walleye, sauger and saugeye in a six-fish aggregate daily bag limit instead of the current separate bag limits for walleye/saugeye (six) and for sauger (six). No walleye/sauger/saugeye changes are being suggested for the Ohio River.
312 IAC 9-8-4 and 312 IAC 9-8-5: Prohibits the use of wings or leads on a commercial fishing device within the Wabash River and other inland waters (does not include the Ohio River).
Roe-harvesting commercial fishermen who target shovelnose sturgeon are the only fishermen using wings/leads. Some are not using them for the intended purpose. Wings/leads are typically used on trap-nets in areas with little to no current in order to guide fish into the “trap” portion of the net. Some commercial fishermen on the Wabash are using wings/leads as gill nets to entangle fish. Gill nets are not permitted. Shovelnose sturgeon are extremely susceptible to becoming entangled in these devices. A recent operation by Indiana Conservation Officers found that nearly all shovelnose sturgeon captured by hoop nets with wings/leads were entangled in the wing/lead and not caught in the trap portion of the net. Entanglement gear causes significantly more stress and mortality of captured fish.
312 IAC 9-12-4: Removes the requirement that a license retailer note the date the hunter education program was successfully completed (just note the certification number). The DNR’s automated licensing system does not require a license agent to note the date the program was taken. The date is not important in determining whether the person met the requirements for hunter education before obtaining a hunting license.
Repeals 312 IAC 9-1-9 and 312 IAC 9-2-1 because these provisions are already in statute.
Repeals 312 IAC 9-2-5 since the provisions are being incorporated into one rule in 312 IAC 9-2-4 governing trapping and netting of birds.
Repeals 312 IAC 9-5-10 since it is no longer applicable (deadline was November 1, 1999).
The Natural Resources Commission gave final adoption to the rule changes governing commercial deer processors, wild animal rehabilitation permits, nuisance wild animal control permits, and trapper education permits at their meeting in July of 2015.
The rule changes must still be approved by the Attorney General’s Office and Governor’s Office and published in the Indiana Register before they take effect.
Below is a summary of the proposed rule changes:
312 IAC 9-3-10: Require commercial deer processors to properly dispose of deer carcasses by incineration, taking them to a landfill, or taking the carcasses to a rendering facility. The DNR has received complaints regarding the disposal practices of deer processors. Many are not regulated or inspected by the health department or any other agency and have no requirements for how they dispose of deer carcasses they handle. Additionally, the Board of Animal Health (BOAH) in 345 IAC 1-3-31 allows people to move carcasses or parts of carcasses, including heads, spinal cord and small intestine of cervidae taken in other states, to commercial deer processors that are registered by DNR. However, DNR currently has no requirements on proper disposal of those parts; only record-keeping requirements relative to deer that are taken in to process. This can cause problems if a disease such as CWD or bovine TB would show up in Indiana’s wild deer herd.
312 IAC 9-10-9: The following changes govern the Wild Animal Rehabilitation Permit:
- Removes the continuing education requirement for those who have had a rehabilitation permit for 10 years or more. After the Indiana wildlife rehabilitator’s organization disbanded in 2012, the options to meet this requirement narrowed. Over the past few years, the remaining options are very limited, and usually include only attendance at a DNR-hosted course, taking an online course, travelling to a national meeting, or being part of a non-profit organization/center that trains its own staff. Some of these options are expensive and/or time consuming. Rehabilitators provide their service at no charge, and the Division of Fish & Wildlife does not believe the current requirement is necessary for the survival of the wild animal population. Wild animal rehabilitators provide a public service and answer many phone calls, pick up injured and orphaned wild animals, and educate the public about wild animals.
- Removes the limits on number of animals that can be released each year. The limit on the number of animals that can be released should be eliminated because wild animal rehabilitators should not be used to control populations. With a limited number of wildlife rehabilitators and increasing suburban development, permitted wildlife rehabilitators should not be limited in regard to the number of wild animals they can accept and care for, as long as they have the cages and means of taking care of the animals properly.
312 IAC 9-10-11: Reduces the number of hours of continuing education required to 16 hours (instead of 32) in a four year period of time for a nuisance wild animal control permit holder that provides services to the public or charges a fee. Permit holders are finding it difficult to meet the 32-hour requirement since training opportunities within the state have become more limited and may require a lengthy drive, costing time and money for permit holders (and their employees).
312 IAC 9-10-24: This rule creates a new trapper education permit (free of charge) that authorizes the trapping of furbearing mammals outside the season for a trapper education class approved by the DNR.
DNR-sponsored trapper education classes can be more beneficial when students are allowed to actually set traps and learn how to release animals from those traps. In order to increase participation and provide education before the start of the trapping season, classes need to be conducted at a time other than during trapping season. This new permit would meet that need when a class is held outside regulated trapping seasons.
You can view the proposed new rule language here.
The Natural Resources Commission gave the rule language preliminary adoption at their meeting on Nov. 18, 2014.
The Natural Resources Commission will vote on these proposed changes at their meeting on Sept. 15, 2015. The hearing officer’s report with the rule language, public comments, and response from the DNR is available at: http://www.in.gov/nrc/files/item_8_nrc_sept_2015.pdf
If the Commission gives the package final adoption, they must still be approved by the Attorney General’s Office and Governor’s Office and published in the Indiana Register before they take effect.
Below is a summary of the proposed rule changes:
- Increases the minimum size limit on channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish from 10 inches to 13 inches on rivers and streams statewide, including the Ohio River. This would include both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
- Allows not more than one channel catfish to be taken per day that is 28 inches in total length or longer in lakes and streams statewide (both inland water and Ohio River) for both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
- Allows not more than one flathead and one blue catfish to be taken per day that is 35 inches in total length or longer in lakes and streams statewide (both inland water and Ohio River) for both sport fishing and commercial fishing.
The DNR commenced studying the decline in the catfish harvest in 2009 following the Natural Resources Commission Comprehensive Rule Review Project. At that time, a number of citizens and sportsmen organizations proposed increased protection for the catfish, citing concerns about potential commercial overharvest of big catfish for sale to pay lake operators.
Additional research by Dr. Robert Columbo of Southern Illinois University concluded that with the current regulations, only a modest increase in harvest could cause overfishing of catfish on the Wabash River. In particular, with the current 10-inch minimum size limit in Indiana’s portion of the Wabash River, the spawning potential ratio dropped below the 0.20 threshold at a fishing mortality of 33 percent, which means recruitment overfishing will occur if harvest exceeds 33 percent. This ongoing research suggests that flathead catfish are currently experiencing about 30 percent fishing mortality. Dr. Colombo noted that increasing the minimum size limits to 13 inches would lead to increased population abundance and higher angler catch rates and yield because it increases the reproductive potential of smaller/younger fish.
Recreational harvest estimates were not available when Colombo authored his report, but the 2005-2006 Wabash River creel survey indicated that around 70 percent of all catfish caught recreationally are harvested. Catch-and-release fishing was minimal, but did increase farther upstream. The 2009 report by Steve Donabauer reported that the current 10-inch minimum size limit allows harvest of immature fish and thus provides very limited protection for first time spawning catfish. Flathead catfish become sexually mature between 3-5 years and channel catfish at 4-5 years, yet flathead catfish are already nearly 12 inches long by age three and channel catfish are nearly 12 inches by age four. Donabauer also showed larger, older fish and lower annual morality and exploitation rates in the non-commercially fished section of the Wabash River.
At the completion of its five year study, the Division has concluded that the decline in catfish harvested can be attributed to a number of factors, including:
- Increased sport fishing interest in catfish, both for consumptive harvest and for a growing number of catfish catch-and-release tournaments;
- Increased commercial harvest above the long-term annual average, including the targeting of the largest catfish available for live sale to pay lakes;
- First-hand observations and anecdotal information from fishermen over a period of years that suggest the number and size of catfish appears to be declining, at least in some heavily fished locations;
- Unquantified but likely negative impacts on catfish from growing abundance of Asian carp as well as impacts of other exotic invasive species such as zebra mussels;
- Periodic water quality issues, most notably from non-point source pollution affecting Indiana’s rivers;
- Knowledge that current 10-inch minimum size limit does not protect catfish to reproductive size, which is closer to 15 inches;
- Research findings that document catfish are more heavily exploited in the commercially fished zones of the Wabash River.
Indiana is not the only state in the Midwest that has studied the decline in catfish harvest and concluded that changes were implemented or proposed in order to protect the species with the best reproductive potential:
- The Kentucky DNR now has similar catfish changes on the Ohio River for large, “trophy” catfish, with the exception of commercial fishing below the Cannelton Lock and Dam near Tell City in Perry County; Kentucky’s regulations allow commercial fishermen who have harvested more than 10,000 pounds of catfish in at least two of the last three years and others selected by a drawing (for a total of 50) to take up to four of these large catfish per day.
- Illinois DNR is proposing a change in catfish minimum length limits for the Wabash River. They are proposing a 13-inch size limit for both commercial and recreational fishers, and adding a 20 catfish per day bag limit for recreational anglers; previously they had a 15-inch minimum size limit for commercial fisherman, but no minimum size limit or bag limit for recreational anglers. Illinois DNR is also proposing the same ‘trophy’ catfish regulations as those proposed in this rule package (limit of one channel catfish over 28 inches and one blue and flathead catfish over 35 inches).
- Ohio allows only one big catfish (over 35 inches for blues and flatheads, 28 inches for channels) per day. Only five catfish can be taken per day, all catfish species combined.
- West Virginia allows only two blue catfish to be taken per day, and they do not allow commercial fishing.
- Virginia allows one blue catfish over 34 inches per day.
- Tennessee allows one catfish over 34 inches per day with a daily bag limit of five for all catfish harvested.
- Minnesota allows two flatheads to be taken per day and only one over 24 inches. They don’t allow commercial fishing in the Minnesota River.
- Mississippi allows one blue or flathead catfish over 34 inches per day.
- Oklahoma allows one blue catfish over 30 inches per day, and flatheads must be at least 20 inches.
The DNR has been coordinating with the Illinois DNR along with researchers at Purdue and Eastern Illinois University to develop similar regulations for the effective management of the Wabash River catfish populations. Collaboration with neighboring states is necessary for achieving common goals and protecting resources at a landscape scale.
By limiting the number of large (trophy) catfish that can be taken by anglers, catfish will be able to increase recruitment (survival of younger catfish), and ensure continued trophy angling opportunities. Furthermore, because large catfish eat smaller fish, large “trophy” catfish help control the populations of forage species such as gizzard shad. For example, invasive Asian carp are expanding in the Wabash River. Maintaining strong predator fish populations, such as large catfish, can help counter such invasions.