Proposed USFWS tournament ban could affect Upper Miss.

Associate Editor

Lake City, Minn. A proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service that would in most cases ban fishing tournaments on
national wildlife refuges could have an effect in the Minnesota
portion of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife
Refuge.

The prohibition of tourney fishing is part of a larger policy
directive for the USFWS from the 1997 Refuge Improvement Act.
Following a public comment period, the USFWS will implement its
final policy.

Part of that policy includes recreational usage of national
refuges, including tournament activity. Specifically, the proposal
regarding tournament fishing states, “We prohibit this type of
fishing on (refuge) lands and waters unless we make a specific
determination that the event builds appreciation for and an
understanding of, fish and wildlife resources, does not interfere
with other refuge visitors, and if prizes of only nominal value are
awarded.”

While fishing and hunting are considered “priority” uses of
national wildlife refuges, Dan Sobieck, public affairs specialist
for the USFWS in St. Paul, said this policy is not a departure from
that concept.

“(Tournaments) have to be considered with other things in mind,”
he said. “Hunting and fishing are well-established, legitimate
uses, but there are questions about fishing tournaments and their
impacts, including high-speed boating and crowding.

“We’re not suggesting there will no longer be fishing on the
refuge.”

In Minnesota, such a ruling last year would’ve had an effect on
potentially four Upper Mississippi River tournaments in the
southeast portion of the state, said Tim Schlagenhaft, area
fisheries supervisor for the state DNR in Lake City.

A June tournament the Hiawatha Bass Classic involved 60 teams,
while the Halloween Classic bass tourney involved 25 teams, he
said. Two other tournaments a KFAN radio bass event and the
Minnesota Pro-Am bass tourney involved three pools of the
Mississippi, including one within the Upper Mississippi refuge.
This year, they both are allowed only two pools, both outside the
refuge.

Thus far, there’s only one proposal for a tournament within the
Upper Mississippi refuge this year. No other refuges in the state
have tournaments, according to Sobieck. Across the river in
Wisconsin, Schlagenhaft said numerous tournaments could be
affected.

Ron Benjamin, Wisconsin DNR fisheries supervisor in La Crosse,
said last year, about 25 tourneys were held in an area that could
be affected by USFWS policy. Due to new tourney regulations in
Minnesota and Iowa, potentially 50 tournaments will take place in
that area this year.

“Minnesota and Iowa got a lot more restrictive, so everybody on
their side came over to our side,” Benjamin said. A proposal to
place limitations on tournaments died in the Wisconsin Legislature
last year.

“In Wisconsin, if 58 (groups) wanted tournaments at the same
time, they’d have to fight it out amongst themselves,” Benjamin
said.

The tournament fishing aspect of the proposal could change, if
feedback continues as it has, said Jim Fischer, complex manager of
the Upper Mississippi NWR.

“I believe there’s been a fair amount of comment on the
tournament fishing question,” he said. “We’ve been asked a lot
about it.”

Tournament officials have been openly critical of the USFWS
policy proposal. American Sportfishing Association Vice President
Norville Prosser said tournaments have worked to promote a
conservation ethic in fishing, something the USFWS should
appreciate.

“Arbitrarily banning fishing tournaments based on some
individual’s sensitivities to the level of prize money, or other
such marginal factors, is a poorly predicated management protocol
for the National Wildlife Refuge System,” Prosser said.

Though there could be a possible extension, Sobieck said the
deadline for public comment on the draft policy is currently March
19. Comments can be sent to Douglas Staller, Acting Chief, Division
of Visitor Services and Communications, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 670, Arlington, VA. 22203
or fax (703) 358-2248, or check out the USFWS web site at:
www.fws.gov/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *