Rainy rule scrutinized

International Falls, Minn. DNR Fisheries and the public will
tackle the question of whether to further restrict the walleye
harvest regulations on Rainy Lake at a public meeting here next
week.

The current experimental slot regulation on Rainy Lake
implemented in 1994 expires on March 1, 2001. It requires the
immediate release of all walleyes from 17 to 25 inches with one
over 25 inches allowed in a possession limit of six.

Jeff Eibler, large lake specialist for the DNR area fisheries
office in International Falls, said the state considered Rainy Lake
a “sluggish” fishery prior to the slot rule. The state bought out
the few remaining commercial fishermen on Rainy in 1985, but still
didn’t see a dramatic increase in walleye size structure.

That changed when the state implemented the slot limit. The
numbers and size structure of walleyes in Rainy has improved
dramatically in recent year, and the word is out. Outdoor News
features an increasing number of reader shots from anglers finding
and catching the lake’s ample number of big walleyes. Several large
recent year-classes have helped increase that harvest.

The downside to the improved fishing is increased pressure and
harvest that state biologists believe the lake can’t sustain. Rainy
Lake now has two times the angling pressure in 2000 that it had in
1994, Eibler says. Anglers from across Minnesota, and a growing
contingent of out-of-staters recognize Rainy as a quality walleye
fishery, he says.

Combined with concerns from the Ontario Ministry of Natural
Resources, which manages the bulk of Rainy Lake, the state believes
the five-year sunset of the experimental rule presents a good time
to re-evaluate the harvest regulation.

“We’re trying to be proactive here and maintain this quality
fishery,” Eibler said.

The state wants to keep angler harvest on the U.S. side of the
border to 42,000 pounds per year. Anglers have exceeded that total
the past two years, taking 53,000 pounds of walleyes in 1999 and
60,000 pounds in 2000.

Ron Payer, director of the Fisheries Division, says the agency
has three options on the table that it believes would bring anglers
back to an acceptable harvest level. All three options involve
adjusting the protected slot, lowering the bag limit, or both.

One option would scale back the current 17- to 25-inch protected
slot to a 16- to 28-inch protected slot with the same six-fish
bag.

Option No. 2 would implement a 17- to 28-inch slot with a four
fish bag limit. Modeling suggests that would drop harvest from 20
to 25 percent.

A third option would maintain the current 17- to 25-inch slot
but would implement a two-fish daily bag and four-fish possession
limit. That option is especially intriguing, Payer said, because
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources officials have said they’d
consider increasing the province’s current one fish daily, four in
possession on Rainy Lake to two daily, four in possession. Though
the province’s protected slot would not match Minnesota’s, it would
represent a move toward consistent bag and possession limits
between the two governments.

Payer said the DNR remains open to other options that the public
may bring forth. Public comment so far has been positive, and the
DNR has worked closely with the Rainy River Sportfishing Club
already in discussing options, he said.

The public meeting will be held in International Falls on
Tuesday, Nov. 21 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Rainy River Community
College (1501 Hwy. 11/71 West) in the Student Commons area. The
meeting will begin with an informational session, followed by an
opportunity to ask the DNR questions and provide input to DNR
staff. Anglers, area residents, and others wishing to comment on
the regulation are encouraged to attend.

In addition, the DNR will hold an open house the same day in St.
Paul, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the DNR Central Office at 500
Lafayette Rd., Second Floor.

The DNR also will accept written comments for 14 days following
the meetings (through Dec. 5) at: DNR Fisheries, 392 Highway 11
East, international Falls, MN 56649;

kevin.peterson@dnr.state.mn.us

The DNR hopes to decide the new rule by Dec. 15 and have a new
regulation in place by the May, 2001 fishing opener.

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