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UPDATE: VanLandschoot happy with DNR reversal; wants long-term solution

Many commercial fisheries previously said that the restrictions would put them out of business.
Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 5:44 PM EST
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MUNISING, Mich. (WLUC) - UPDATE: Feb. 19 - 5:00 p.m.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reversing course on restrictions placed on the commercial fishing industry.

Many commercial fisheries previously complained that the restrictions would put them out of business. (See full story below)

In documents provided by the lawyer representing commercial fisheries, and signed by DNR officials, the department is now allowing commercial fisheries to set nets in water depths of up to 150 feet. Under previous regulations this was 70 feet.

For VanLandschoot and Sons, located in Munising, it’s a sigh of relief for a fifth-generation business.

“It’s quite emotional really because I think about my grandfather, my father and my brothers who really carried the business on for 50 years prior to me,” said Dennis VanLandschoot, CEO of VanLandschoot and Sons Fish Market.

Now VanLandschoot will enter its 108th year in business.

In its reversal letter, the DNR calls the industry “important to the state’s economic and cultural livelihoods”, but gives no specific reason for the reversal. TV6 reached out to the DNR who declined to comment.

“In the long term we want to work with the DNR,” said VanLandschoot. “We really believe that there’s common ground here.”

For now, the DNR is reimplementing last year’s rules as a long-term solution is worked on.

“We respect them,” said VanLandschoot. “We want to have, and have had, a very positive relationship with them and want that to continue.”

VanLandschoot credits the reversal to thousands of letters sent from supporters around the world.

“Alger County led it and then it just kinda mushroomed from a certain person to the next person….a friend, of a friend, of a friend, of a friend,” said VanLandschoot. “To get that kind of support was really heartwarming.”

In the meantime, it’s business as usual for VanLandschoot once the weather is right.

“We fish in three ports,” said VanLandschoot. “We fish in Munising, we fish in Houghton and at the top of the Keweenaw.”

VanLandschoot also thanked Republican state Senator Ed McBroom and Democrat Representative Sara Cambensy for their support. He says it couldn’t have been done without them.

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ORIGINAL STORY: Jan. 21

New restrictions by the Michigan DNR are threatening to shut down Michigan’s commercial fishing industry for good.

Commercial fishing on Lake Superior has provided whitefish for locals and tourists for well over a century. Now, new limitations could shut down the industry.

Dennis VanLandschoot is the CEO of a fifth generation U.P. fishery in Munising. Now at risk of closing after more than a century of business.

“It really puts the industry right out of business,” said VanLandschoot, CEO of VanLandschoot and Sons Fish Market. “There’s 13 state license fishers and I know many of them won’t even put their boat in because there is no sense.”

That’s because of new restrictions from the state’s DNR. The department has now banned all commercial fishing deeper than 80 feet below the water.

“Whitefish like cooler water,” said VanLandschoot.

According to VanLandschoot, most whitefish are found 120 feet or deeper. Previously the industry was allowed to set nets up 150 feet below the surface.

“Someone will have to buy their fish from Canada,” said VanLandschoot. “People from Michigan will not be able to buy a Michigan fish from a Michigan Lake.”

In 2019, a series of bills were first introduced in the Michigan legislature and were also set to increase regulations on the industry. Critics of the bills say they primarily benefited recreational fishing.

“The management of the fisheries for recreation only and away from the commercial side has really created a vested interest in pushing the commercial fishermen out of business once and for all,” said Sen. Ed McBroom, R-38th State Senate District.

The bills passed the house, but stalled in the senate. In December, the DNR issuing a series of restrictions, including the new 80-foot rule.

In its letter to the industry the DNR explaining its decision, saying in part, “the Department wanted to provide this to highlight the importance of the state-licensed commercial fishing bills.”

According to Senator McBroom, well over 100 amendments, mostly supported by the industry, were presented to the department. None of them were seriously considered.

“The last communication I had from them was, ‘Just adapt everything we need and we promise to talk with you about a few of the things you want,’” said Sen. McBroom.

The industry is now suing the department. After delaying the approval of their licenses for this year, for more than a month.

“The department made it real clear that unless the commercial fishing industry supported those house bills, that things were going to change,” said Mike Perry, the lawyer representing the Michigan Fish Producers Association.

According to court documents, the director of the DNR emailed VanLandschoot and said in part, “Once the bills are signed, I am committed to continuing the conversation between the industry and the department.”

“Now they’re playing a game of chicken with the livelihoods of the 13 remaining commercial fishing men in the state and all of us who buy fish from them,” said Sen. McBroom.

The lawyer representing the industry says these restrictions are an infringement on freedom of speech.

TV6 reached out the DNR multiple times, they declined to comment due to the ongoing lawsuit.

“It will essentially lock our doors,” said VanLandschoot. “If we can’t catch fish, if we can’t sell fish...it will be a very sad day.”

The DNR now has 28 days to respond to the lawsuit.

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