The Wappapello Civic Center was bursting at the seams Tuesday night as about 250 anxious crappie anglers and local business owners heard from Missouri Department of Conservation officials about proposed new regulations on the lake.
Fisheries management biologist Mark Boone presented a 30-minute program detailing the results of his five-year study of crappie and anglers at the lake.
The study was brought on by a petition from more than 200 concerned anglers in May 2000. Those anglers asked the department to do something about the quality of crappie fishing at Wappapello, specifically increasing the size of the fish.
The department held a public meeting on the subject in September of that same year and agreed to do an evaluation of the crappie population.
After the study was complete, several department biologists agreed that a change would improve fish size. It was decided to recommend a minimum length limit of nine inches for white and black crappie and reducing the daily limit from 30 to 15 fish.
"We're trying to be responsive to what anglers want,"Boone said. "They're telling us they're not catching many big fish, and our studies mirror those comments. We found that two-thirds of the crappie being harvested were under 9 inches. That's a lot of small fish."
Tuesday night's meeting allowed area anglers to voice their opinions on the proposed changes before they are brought up before the department's regulations committee.
The biggest concern was the reduction of the daily limit.
"Why can't you slowly transition to the lower limits by starting at 25 fish one year, then 20 the next and so on?" asked Chris Bowen of Jackson.
Boone and Kevin Richards, the fisheries field operations chief, countered that such constantly changing regulations are harder to enforce, are confusing to anglers and would make little biological difference.
Business owners voiced their concerns that a smaller daily limit will result in regular customers traveling elsewhere.
Katy Edmondson, owner of Ozark Katy's Kountry Store, said crappie season (the April spawn) was her busiest of the year and that a reduced daily limit would result in most of her customers going to nearby Clearwater Lake, which has a 30-fish limit.
"I support the 9-inch limit. ... If they can't keep 30 fish, they're not going to drive 100 miles to fish here," she said. "Wappapello would be dead."
Dave Bowman, owner of Chaonia Landing, believes business owners are over-reacting. Bowman also believes the lake's regular crappie anglers are selfish.
"They're keeping small fish just to say they're keeping 30 fish," he said. "They're not thinking of the average guy."
Richards, who lives and works on Lake of the Ozarks, where regulations like the ones proposed are already in place, noted that business there didn't dry up when the regulations were changed on that lake, but one unidentified person mentioned that comparing Wappapello to the "party lake" wasn't appropriate. Richards also noted similar complaints from locals at several other Missouri reservoirs when similar regulations were enacted.
Several people left the meeting early, saying they believed the department has made up its mind.
"Nothing is set in stone," Richards said. "That's why we're here ... to get your input before we go to the regulations committee."
To voice your opinion, you may also write to the local MDC staff directly at the Southeast Regional Office in Cape Girardeau. The address is 2302 County Park Drive, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63701.