Opinions mixed on Rainy Lake options

International Falls, Minn. As DNR fisheries managers determine
what special regulations will best serve the walleyes of Rainy
Lake, public sentiment on a number of options was mixed at a
meeting last week in International Falls.

“People seemed OK with adjusting the upper end (of a protected
slot) but there was a general reluctance to reduce the limit to
four fish,” said Jeff Eibler, DNR large lake specialist at this
northern Minnesota town.

The current experimental regulations for the lake, which forms a
portion of the border between Minnesota and Ontario, Canada, are
due to expire March 1, 2001. The experimental regs which DNR
Fisheries officials credit with boosting the number and size
structure of Rainy Lake walleyes require anglers to release all
walleyes from 17 to 25 inches long. Only one greater than 25 inches
may be kept in a six-fish limit.

However, officials don’t believe the regulations are restrictive
enough to protect the fishery. They’ve advocated expanding the
protected slot and/or reducing the limit. About 65 people attended
the International Falls public input meeting to voice their
opinions.

“It was kind of hard to judge the overall sentiment,” Eibler
said. “People are reluctant to go to (a limit of) four, unless the
entire state goes to four.”

“We’re getting a strong message from the business community that
they’re opposed to changes on Rainy until they’re done on a
statewide basis, especially on bag limits,” added Kevin Peterson,
DNR fisheries supervisor in International Falls.

Members of the local business community say they don’t want to
be put at a disadvantage when it comes to marketing the area to
anglers. Peterson said both the local chamber of commerce and city
council have opposed bag limit changes.

Overharvest by commercial and sport anglers during the century
reduced the quality of the fishery, officials say. Commercial
fishing ended 15 years ago, but the quality of the walleye fishery
didn’t improve until after the experimental regs were implemented
in 1994.

However, the number of angler hours on the Minnesota side of
Rainy Lake has doubled since 1994. While DNR officials would like
the harvest of walleyes in Minnesota-regulated Rainy not to exceed
42,000 pounds, there were about 53,000 pounds harvested in 1999,
and about 60,000 pounds harvested this year.

Of the options presented to people attending the International
Falls meeting, Eibler said one which would implement a 17- to
28-inch slot, with a four fish limit, received the most support.
Next in popularity was an option to expand the protected slot to 16
to 28 inches, and keep the bag limit at six fish.

Eibler said some comments regarding the regulations have
promoted a consistent limit between Ontario and Minnesota. That’s
something the DNR has discussed with Ontario Ministry of Natural
Resources, but not something expected soon.

“The two agencies, DNR and OMNR, meet regularly to share data on
border waters,” Peterson said. “But there’s not an effort under way
to come up with common regulations. Both agencies recognize it’s a
shared resource and work in its best interest.

Nonresidents fishing on the Canadian side of Rainy are allowed
one fish per day, with a possession limit of four.

Public comments will be accepted until Dec. 5. After that time,
Peterson will summarize the comments and make a recommendation,
which will be considered by other Fisheries officials. Ultimately,
DNR Commissioner Allen Garber will decide what special regulations
will guide walleye management on Rainy.

Should a decision not be made by the March 1, the sunset on the
experimental regulations, statewide regulations will dictate
management of Minnesota’s Rainy waters.

That’s unlikely, however, as Peterson said the agency will take
some sort of action. He expects a DNR decision on the
recommendation sometime in December, in time to print the special
regulations in the 2001 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet.

Outdoor News has conducted a reader survey on its web site,
www.outdoornews.com, asking the question, “Do you support a more
restrictive walleye regulation on Rainy Lake?”

Respondents currently favor tighter restrictions by a margin of
65 percent to 35 percent.

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