Trap Nets Hazard to Boaters - New Requirements as of May 15th

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has asked the National Weather Service in Milwaukee/Sullivan to alert boaters on Lake Michigan to the hazards created by trap nets.  

Trap nets are large underwater nets used by commercial fisherman to catch whitefish and let sportfish go in the Great Lakes.  They pose a potential hazard for anglers and other boaters.  Downriggers, fishing lines, and propellors can get caught in the nets or anchor ropes.  These trap nets can extend 45 feet below the lake surface. 

Watch for the flags and buoys that mark these nets and give them a wide berth. 

Trap net diagram

These trap nets are used in parts of Lake Michigan (and Lake Superior) from late Spring through the Fall.  Commercial fisherman move the nets to follow the fish, so it is important to always be on the lookout for the flags and buoys that mark these nets. It is recommended that you keep your boat at least 250 feet away from the trap net indicator flags and buoys.

From June 29th through Labor Day (September 6th), commercial trap nets are confined to two small areas of western Lake Michigan around Sheboygan and Manitowoc.  They can be placed anywhere in the lake the remainder of the year. The limited zones run along 8 miles of shoreline south from Kohler-Andrae State Park, southeast of Sheboygan, and between the Manitowoc and Two River harbors.  The areas begin a quarter-mile from shore and end when the water depth reaches 150 feet.

Location of trap nets

Sheboygan and Two Rivers were opened to trap netting in May 2003.  These trap nets are typically orientated perpendicular to the shoreline. 

If you do get tangled in a trap net, cut any lines and cables immediately.  Keep the bow of your boat heading into the waves, and shut off your engine. 

Emergency Safety Rules Implemented by the Wisconsin DNR on May 15, 2011

1) Boaters who are trolling on the Great Lakes with downriggers are now required to have easily accessible wire cutters on board so they can cut the downriggers and other lines if they get snagged in a trapnet or other underwater obstruction.

2) Commercial fisherman must use reflective tape on their trap nets.  Hence boaters are strongly advised to carry a powerful flashlight if they are fishing at night so they can better see the trap nets.

More information on the above requirements can be found on the press release released by the WI DNR on May 6th. 

In June 2010, a boat carrying three anglers who were trolling in Lake Michigan near Sheboygan capsized after their downrigger cables got tangled in a legally set trap net.  While in the water, one of the anglers suffered a heart attach and died.

More general information on trap nets can be found on the Wisconsin DNR website.

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