By Rich Davenport, published November 13, 2021
On October 29, 2021, NYSDEC Fisheries released new proposed regulations impacting panfish in New York, specifically sunfish and crappie, very popular fish pursued by young and old alike. In response to angler desires submitted to DEC over the past several years, a Sunfish and Crappie Draft “Management” Plan was released in January 2021, which called for the effort to see if larger sunfish and crappie could be possible by increasing some protections on these species of fish that are open year round to angling pressure.
According to Steve Hurst, NYSDEC Bureau of Fisheries Chief, while presenting fisheries updates to the New York State Conservation Council’s fall annual meeting, it took quite a bit of time to evaluate the comments on the draft plan, partly due to the erroneous description of this being a “management plan”. “Anglers were a bit confused over the nature of this proposal, as the choice of the term “management” was really not accurate,” Hurst told the Council representatives on August 28, 2021. Hurst continued, “We have had requests to provide opportunity to catch larger sunfish and crappie in NY, and other states like Wisconsin have shown it is possible to do.”
In the original draft plan, which is billed as a five-year “pilot” program, several changes would be made to sunfish and crappie regulations, statewide, while also targeting some specific waters for additional effort to see if big panfish could be cultivated. “Some of the most consistent feedback we hear from anglers is ‘why doesn’t NY harbor larger sunfish?” Hurst observed. It is thought if larger sunfish, and crappie, were more frequently encounter, more anglers would be likely to give fishing a try, and keep fishing as the thrill of larger panfish, which are certainly less demanding to catch than the more popular gamefish, like bass or walleye, would be their own recruitment and retention fishery. The efforts to see larger panfish has been dubbed the “Big Panfish Initiative”.
After months of consideration, NYSDEC released their final proposed regulations to execute a much-scaled back and less ambitious effort, striking the right balance between the desires of some with the biological realities sunfish and crappie bring to the table. In the end, three significant proposed changes were published, as follows:
- Reduce the daily creel limit on sunfish from 50 per day, per angler, to 25 per day, per angler, statewide.
- Increase the minimum “keeper” size on crappie from 9″ to 10″, statewide.
- Establish certain waters as “Big Panfish Initiative”, or BPI, sunfish lakes/ ponds, by implementing special sunfish rules, including setting a minimum size of 8″, and reducing the daily creel limit further, to 15 fish per day.
The designated BPI sunfish waters, which increased slightly over the initial draft plan are as follows by region:
- Region 1: Blydenburgh Lake
- Region 2: No waters applicable
- Region 3: Lake Welch
- Region 4: Canadarago Lake and Goodyear Lake
- Region 5: Saratoga Lake
- Region 6: Sixtown Pond and Red Lake
- Region 7: Cazenovia Lake and Otisco Lake
- Region 8: Honeoye Lake
- Region 9: Silver Lake
According to Hurst, the BPI sunfish plan was positively received by most, while the BPI crappie plan brought more resistance. The primary concern was it would unacceptably restrict the opportunity to harvest desirable size crappie, effectively turning these fisheries into primarily catch and release or “trophy” fisheries with little opportunity to keep your catch. The BPI is considered a five-year experiment, and will be evaluated following the approach taken with the “Big Panfish Initiative Study Plan.”
Anglers have a 45 day comment period to let DEC regulators know their thoughts on these modest proposals, and make suggestions if these three actions appear lacking or could otherwise be improved. This comment period ends on December 25, 2021, and anglers can submit comments via email to email@example.com, or by mail to Inland Fisheries Section, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753. Please include the subject line “Sunfish and Crappie Regulations” with your comments. It is expected, if accepted, these new regulations would take effect starting April 1, 2022.