Whitefish Resurgence in Bay of Green Bay - WBAY

Whitefish Resurgence in Bay of Green Bay

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Fish biologists are calling it an amazing and surprising recovery.

After all but disappearing from the Bay of Green Bay in the late 1800's due to logging activity, pollution and over-fishing; whitefish are back, and back with a vengeance.

Just outside Little Sturgeon on the bay, DNR Fisheries Biologist Scott Hansen discovers it's another banner day ice fishing for whitefish.

Another fisherman is closing in on a limit.

"A wonderful success story, it's something you don't see often in the fisheries world is them coming back, just almost out of the blue," says Hansen.

The first indication of a whitefish resurgence came in 2007, when ice fishermen on the bay caught just over 1,500.

By 2011, the harvest soared to nearly 200,000.

"It definitely has been a good thing," says Kelly Burmeister, a guide out of Dyckesville.

He says whitefish now attract ice fishing clients from far away.

"The furthest away has been New York City, all over the Midwest, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri," says Burmeister. 

So why the sudden recovery?

Hansen he credits a couple of factors.

First, he says overall whitefish populations in Lake Michigan have grown over the past two decades, meaning some fish are likely seeking new water in search of food.

And Hansen says water quality in the Fox, Oconto and Peshtigo Rivers has improved to the point whitefish are now spawning in those rivers for the first time in more than a century.

"We're very fortunate, it's a miraculous thing that they were able to re-colonize these tributaries and come back so we're hoping they can hold on and continue to stay there," says Hansen.

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