Fish and wildlife rule change proposals taking shape for Wisconsin spring hearings

Walleye are the most popular game fish in Wisconsin, according to surveys conducted by the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is proposing a three fish daily bag limit of walleye, sauger or hybrids on Wisconsin's inland waters.
Walleye are the most popular game fish in Wisconsin, according to surveys conducted by the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR is proposing a three fish daily bag limit of walleye, sauger or hybrids on Wisconsin's inland waters.

Would you support a daily walleye bag limit of three fish on all Wisconsin inland waters? Extending the northern zone musky season so it covered the same dates as the south? Adding two days to the statewide youth deer hunt? Allowing hunters to divide deer, bear or elk into more than five parts when bringing the animal out of the field?

These items and more are likely to be on the 2023 Wisconsin spring hearings questionnaire. The Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday will seek approval from the Natural Resources Board to place the proposals on the April ballot.

Formally known as the Department of Natural Resources Spring Hearings and Wisconsin Conservation Congress County Meetings, the annual gatherings offer the public the opportunity to provide input on topics affecting conservation and the environment.

Although a schedule has not been officially released for this year, the meetings have traditionally been held on the second Monday of April. This year that's April 10.

It's likely this year will include a return to in-person participation, too. Due to the coronavirus pandemic the input was gathered online only for the last three years.

As has been the case since Act 21 was passed in 2011, the administrative rule change process has more steps and takes one to two years longer than before. The result has been the DNR offering proposed rules changes in odd years and advisory questions in even years.

So this year's spring hearings input will likely be a step along the way to at least several, and probably many, new rules and regulations.

The DNR is planning to offer 28 fisheries rules change proposals and one fisheries advisory question as well as nine wildlife rules change proposals.

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress historically also released its ballot of advisory questions in January. However this year the WCC is not on its traditional schedule. Kari Lee-Zimmerman, the DNR's liaison to the WCC, said the congress plans to have the questions ready in February.

Management of walleyes, commonly cited as the most popular sport fish in the state, has long been a challenging issue for the DNR.

In many Wisconsin waters the native fish has suffered from declines in natural recruitment and high rates of exploitation. The trends helped drive a 2015 regulation change to a three walleye daily bag limit in the ceded territory, essentially the northern one-third of the state.

And more recently the the Winnebago system adopted a three walleye/sauger daily bag limit. In addition all waters in six southeastern counties (Kenosha, Racine, Sheboygan, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha) and two east-central counties (Shawano and Waupaca), as well as many other individual waters elsewhere in the state, have three walleye/sauger daily limits.

Yet the standard in the rest of the state is a five walleye daily bag with a 15-inch minimum length limit. The five-bag has been in place since 1949, according to the DNR.

Recent public opinion surveys and other outreach related to an update of Wisconsin’s Walleye Management Plan found significant public concern exists about increasing angling pressure and harvest of walleye in regions where bag limits remain at five per day, according to the DNR.

The agency describes a bag limit reduction as a "proactive approach to managing angling pressure on walleyes while simplifying regulations across the state."

As a result DNR fisheries staff is proposing a three fish daily bag limit of walleye, sauger or hybrids on Wisconsin's inland waters. The regulation would not apply to Lake Michigan (including Green Bay), Lake Superior or the Mississippi River.

The DNR would also like to apply a consistent statewide season structure for the official state fish. It would make the muskellunge season run from the first Saturday in May to Dec. 31 on open water. Currently the northern zone season ends a month earlier than the south.

The agency said the proposal would make the musky season uniform statewide, provide additional musky fishing opportunities in northern Wisconsin and minimize exposure-related delayed mortality of muskies that can occur with ice fishing.

In another musky-related rules change, the DNR will seek to apply trophy musky regulations to more waters. It would set a 50-inch minimum length limit and a daily bag of one musky on several sections of the Wisconsin River; the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage; and several Waukesha County lakes, including Pewaukee, Okauchee, Oconomowoc, Fowler and Lac LaBelle. The waters now have a 40-inch minimum length limit on muskies.

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Among proposed wildlife rule changes, the DNR will ask for support to expand the October youth deer hunt from the current two to four consecutive days. The change, which was recommended by the 2020 Deer Stakeholder Group, would see the season run from Thursday through Sunday. Adding two days would allow individuals to work around inclement weather and any potential weekend conflicts, according to the DNR.

The youth hunt is open to deer hunters under the age of 16. During the season all hunters statewide, exceptfor those pursuing waterfowl, must wear fluorescent orange or pink.

The agency would also like to simplify the rules for quartering deer, bear and elk and make it easier for hunters to transport the animals out of the field. Current regulations allow hunters to divide the animals but not into more than five parts. Also, the head and neck must remain attached to one of the other parts of the animal, not including the hide.

The DNR's proposal would allow hunters to separate the carcass of the deer, bear or elk into as many parts as needed as long as all parts are removed from the field.

In another potential rules change, the DNR is seeking to allow the use of F shot during waterfowl hunting. The large (0.22 inch) diameter shot is allowed in Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan and has been shown to pattern well with larger gauge shotguns, according to the agency.

For a complete list of proposed rules changes, and the full NRB meeting agenda, visit

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Fish, wildlife rule change proposals take shape for Wisconsin hearings