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What do moose and eelpout have in common?

Posted on March 15, 2012

A story by long-time Grand Forks Herald outdoors scribe Brad Dokken has appeared in several publications and websites the past few days via the Associated Press wire. Dokken reports a recurring theme about burbot, or eelpout, in this part of the country: They’re struggling.

Like the moose – another signature species in Minnesota – eelpout prefer cold Minnesota weather. While many of us are thriving during this record-breaking March heat, eelpout (and moose) are not.

A preference for cold water could explain the eelpout’s decline, Tom Heinrich, large lake specialist for the DNR in Baudette, Minn., told Dokken. Summers have been getting warmer, on average, and higher water temperatures could be stressing the fish.

“That’s especially true for traditional eelpout hotspots such as Lake of the Woods and the main basin of Leech Lake – large, windswept bodies of water that don’t have a thermocline, or coldwater refuge, during the summer months,” Dokken wrote.

In such lakes, water temperatures are the same from top to bottom. When the water gets too warm, eelpout basically go dormant, Heinrich said, subsisting on food energy stored in their huge livers.

I’ve seen this firsthand on Lake Mille Lacs. Going out with DNR Fisheries crews on the big lake in the summer, we’ve captured a summer eelpout or two, and it ain’t pretty. Heat stresses these animals and they don’t feed. Frankly they look more like… eels – extra long, skinny, and slimy – during the warmer months of the year.

I recall Tom Jones, Mille Lacs big lake specialist in the early 2000s, shaking his head in resigned empathy for the burbot we saw: “They have a tough time here.”

Before the state banned tullibee netting on Mille Lacs in the fall (because heat-sensitive tullibee numbers also are down) I saw a few incidental eelpout in those late October nets. Their bloated stomachs revealed they’d been on a frenzied feeding binge that the cold, autumn water temperatures had activated. Joe Fellegy in fact has commented before in Outdoor News that he’d check the stomachs of fall eelpout to gauge what plentiful baitfish might produce the best winter walleye action.

A freshwater cod, eelpout offer tasty eating and a nifty of personality to Minnesota waters. (Dokken’s story also noted that eelpout are the only freshwater fish to spawn under the ice – though northern pike must come pretty close in some waters.)

Seems like every winter angler in this state has an eelpout story or two. In my column this week, I lamented the decline of Minnesota moose and advocated for a closed season on the charismatic mammals – at least until the population stabilizes. Like moose, it’d be a shame to lose burbot, so maybe the state should consider implementing more stringent limits and/or a partially closed season on eelpout, too.

Surplus Minnesota turkey permits on sale Monday, March 19

Surplus (or undersubscribed) turkey hunt licenses are available to hunters who applied in the 2012 turkey lottery drawing but were unsuccessful. Those surplus spring licences go on sale March 19 at 5 p.m.

The surplus list as of late this week: 501D=399; 505D=22; 506B=15; 506D=18; 509B=8; 509D=11; 510D=125; 512B=4.

Next Wednesday, March 21, at noon, the remaining surplus licenses and the E to H season permits will go on sale for anyone who does not already have a license, even if they did not apply for the 2012 spring turkey lottery.

Nongame guru’s award

Congratulations to the DNR’s Carrol Henderson, who received a national bird conservation award today. The long-time supervisor of the Nongame Wildlife Program at the DNR, has won the Gary T. Myers Bird Conservation Award from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in Washington.

The lifetime achievement award, which was presented at the North American Bird Conservation Initiative Conference in Atlanta, Ga., is given to an individual who has demonstrated accomplishments and successes in the area of bird conservation.

According to a DNR release, Henderson has more than 38 years of experience and collaboration with other state and national organizations, helping with bird species such as trumpeter swans, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and loons in Minnesota as well as internationally. He also has authored many books and other publications on bird conservation, and has developed many important stewardship practices for wildlife tourism, backyard bird feeding and landscaping, and shoreline restoration that are used by conservation programs all over the world.

“Perhaps the most important take-home message for this award it that it is not just an award for me,” Henderson said in a note to DNR’s Nongame Wildlife staff. “It represents 35 years of combined efforts, teamwork, dedication and conservation partnerships among us that have always been characteristic of our Nongame Wildlife Program.”You can learn more about the DNR Nongame Wildlife Program here.