One of Michigan's most successful commercial fishermen is suing the state to try to overcome a decades-old ban on catching walleye in the Great Lakes.
Dana Serafin of Pinconning is forced to release thousands of walleye from his nets while catching other fish in Lake Huron. In 2008, he proposed a three-year study of the walleye population that included a provision for him to keep and sell some of his haul.
No thanks, replied the state Department of Natural Resources.
"They're the bully in the lake, 2 to 3 feet long _ we have pictures," said Serafin's lawyer, Anthony Calamunci. "In Saginaw Bay, there is cannibalization going on. It's killing perch and whitefish at enormous rates. There's not enough food."
Calamunci filed a lawsuit in April in federal court in Bay City, claiming the state's ban on commercial walleye fishing is a constitutional violation that diminishes the value of Serafin's license.
The DNR is asking a judge to dismiss the case.
"The restrictions on walleye fishing have been in place for at least 35 years, long before Serafin obtained his first commercial license," Assistant Attorney General Louis Reinwasser said in a Nov. 13 court filing.
Michigan law gives the DNR "complete discretion to limit the amount of fish taken by species and kind," he wrote.
The DNR describes Serafin, 42, as the largest commercial fisherman on Lake Huron, catching 990,000 pounds of whitefish worth approximately $1 million in 2008.
His license is "indisputably" valuable, despite the walleye ban, Reinwasser said.
A DNR official, James Dexter, suggested that the state does not want to change the policy because that could reduce the walleye population and disappoint recreational anglers. The fish can be found across the Great Lakes region, and Michigan's neighbors have similar restrictions.
"It is estimated that more than 2 million Michigan residents fish for sport in the state's waters, and thousands more travel from all parts of the world," Dexter, who oversees fishing regulations, said in an affidavit. "The economic impact is estimated to be $2-4 billion annually."
Calamunci accuses the DNR of treating walleye like a "sacred species." He said Serafin at a minimum would like to keep some walleye as well as tag others and return them to the lake.
"And then over a three-year period we could test the impact on other species. There's a science to this," the lawyer said.
He noted that Canada allows commercial fishermen to keep walleye caught on its side of Lake Huron and sell them to stores and restaurants.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 10.