Come Jan. 1, West Virginians who like to fish for crappie, bluegill, sunfish and yellow perch will need to adjust their approach to the pastime.
From that date forward, anglers will be forbidden to keep more than 30 of those fish in any given day.
Mark Scott, head of fisheries for the state Division of Natural Resources, said the agency proposed the limits after receiving numerous reports of people filling entire coolers with panfish, particularly bluegill and crappie.
“Hopefully, this will help to prevent the overharvest of larger, spawning-sized fish,” Scott said. “Studies have found that the bigger ones can be overfished, especially when they’re on their spawning beds.”
He said Jackson County’s Elk Fork Lake is a good example of a fishery affected by overharvest.
The lake once was home to a fine population of good-sized bluegill, but after anglers discovered that large numbers of spawning fish congregated along a sunken road within easy casting distance of the shoreline, they focused their efforts on that area and removed thousands of spawners, leaving only the smallest ones.
They didn’t “fish the lake out.” Scott said that’s almost impossible to do with bluegills and other members of the sunfish family.
“You can have an impact on the size structure, though,” he said. “We’re hoping the new creel limits will keep that from happening quite so often. We want to spread the wealth around a bit.”
The 30-fish restriction is not an aggregate limit; anglers are allowed to keep up to 30 of each species.
Hypothetically, an angler would be able to keep 30 bluegill, 30 green sunfish, 30 redear sunfish, 30 crappie, 30 yellow perch, etc., without going over the limit.
The new limit extends to any game fish that, up to now, has not had any restrictions. That includes channel catfish, which currently are limited only in state-stocked impoundments. The four-fish limit for channel cats in those impoundments will remain in effect.
Even before the state Natural Resources Commission approved the 30-fish limit, some anglers were already complaining about it, claiming it would keep them from amassing enough fish for a good fish fry. Scott doesn’t see that as a problem.
“We think 30 is enough to get a good mess of bluegill or crappie,” he said. “If you want to do catch more fish for a big family fish fry, bring the entire family and go fishing.”
He said DNR biologists would monitor any effects the new limit might have on fisheries, and agency officials would alter the regulations accordingly.
“Give it two or three years,” he added. “We don’t think it will cause any problems, but if it does it could be changed.”