Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Bag limit proposals draw out regional differences

St. Cloud, Minn. Whether you like or dislike proposed changes to
Minnesota’s fishing bag limits depends on where you live, the
species you pursue, and your preferred method of fishing, the DNR
has learned.

The DNR presented the findings of a five-month survey to the Bag
Limit Advisory Committee on Tuesday, May 1. The information was
gleaned from more than 6,000 comments gathered by mail, phone, FAX,
Internet, and at 19 public meetings statewide.

Now it’s time for the DNR to “weigh in and take ownership of
whatever is done,” said Steve Hirsch, assistant director of
fisheries.

The DNR began reviewing statewide bag limits, many of which
haven’t changed in half a century, more than a year ago. The
department would like to prepare a final set of proposals within
six weeks, Hirsch said, and three factors will determine their
content: measurable biological impact of the proposal, public input
and politics.

“Other criteria will probably enter into it,” Hirsch said. “If
our final proposals aren’t consistent with what the public wanted
it’s because not all factors are weighted the same.”

The Bag Limit Advisory Committee gave the DNR a final set of
recommendations to consider, including:

A walleye limit of five fish daily with one over 20 inches.
Debates about the walleye limit were spirited at committee and
regional meetings and Hirsch said he wasn’t surprised a new
proposal has been added to the mix. “It’s been that way with the
walleye. (Opinion) was splintered within this group and we saw that
with the general public, too.”

Keep the current northern pike limit of three fish daily but
change the possession limit from one over 30 inches daily to one
over 30 in possession, meaning you couldn’t have more than one pike
measuring over 30 inches in your freezer.

A sunfish limit of 20 daily (up from the proposed 10 daily) with
a protected slot of the DNR’s devising.

A protected slot of 12-16 inches on brown trout in streams
only.

The data from the statewide public meetings show that regional
support for a proposal is inversely related to the abundance of the
fish in that region. For example, the proposal for a 12- to 16-inch
protected slot on stream trout got 89 percent support in Willmar,
where trout streams are non-existent, but only 10 percent support
in the southeastern Minnesota town of Lanesboro, where trout
fishing is a way of life.

In other cases the data from a regional meeting was skewed by an
unusually large representation of a particular group of anglers.
The proposal to lower the daily bass limit from six to four got 91
percent support in International Falls but only 47 percent support
in Eden Prairie and 45 percent in Brainerd. Few tournament
fishermen live in the border country while the Brainerd and
west-metro areas have plenty of them.

Tournament bass fishermen do not support a lower limit and they
turned out in force at the Brainerd and Eden Prairie meetings.

Special interests also influenced the data on the proposal for a
protected slot of 24-40 inches on northern pike. The proposal got
59 percent support in St. Paul and 9, 12, and 16 percent support,
respectively, in the northern Minnesota towns of Bemidji, Schroeder
and Tower, where darkhouse spearers turned out in force. Spearers
are opposed to the slot because it would be difficult to determine
the length of a pike in a spear hole.

Statewide, support for the two walleye proposals was almost
evenly split between those favoring no changes to the existing
six-fish limit (52 percent) and those favoring a four-fish limit
with six in possession (48 percent). A surprise development: 36
percent favor some type of statewide length limit.

“We think that’s high considering we didn’t ask for one,” said
Gerry Grant, a DNR fisheries biologist. “A lot of people must have
seen the benefits length limits can have on individual lakes.”

The most statewide support (66 percent) was for a proposal that
would reduce the inland lake trout limit from three to two. The
lowest statewide support (15 percent) was for a proposal that would
reduce the crappie limit from 15 to six. But 57 percent favored a
proposed limit of 10 crappies daily.

Metro anglers were most opposed to changes among all
species.

Ron Payer, DNR director of fisheries, said he was surprised that
many people at the public meetings said Minnesota fishing is pretty
good.

“There seems to be a sense that the cup is half full and not
half empty,” Payer said. “That might explain why most people
support only modest reductions to bag limits.”

The DNR has received a “clear mandate” to consider individual
lake management and/or specific regional regulations for northern
pike, Payer said.

“We heard loud and clear that most people want to keep pike
measuring 24 inches and up. If we want to increase the size of pike
in this state we may need to shift our focus to individual waters
management.”

The meeting included first-time attendees Jay Green, of the
Minnesota Bass Federation, and Roger Goeschel, of the Minnesota
Darkhouse and Angling Association. Green said the federation is
opposed to the four-fish bass limit because bass are Minnesota’s
most healthy fishery, bass fishermen already practice a good
conservation ethic, and a four-fish limit is arbitrary.

Goeschel said he had 20,000 signatures in his brief case from
people who do not support the proposed 24-40 inch protected pike
slot. But he said the darkhouse association supports the idea of
managing some lakes specifically for trophy pike.

Payer said he has letters from two state senators who wrote that
reducing the walleye limit could hurt the state economy. Strong
opposition from business and resort owners might make it hard to
change limits, he added.

“A number of these proposals, if we pursue them, will be on a
conservation ethic,” Payer said. “That might be a tough sell.”

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