Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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DNR proposal would keep most fish limits

Associate Editor

St. Paul Nearly three years after first deciding to review game
fish limits in Minnesota, the state DNR has put forth its proposed
changes, along with a nearly equal amount of things that will
remain the same.

The limits for some of the state’s most popular species,
including walleyes, northern pike, and largemouth and smallmouth
bass, will remain unchanged under the proposal, as will limits for
trout in streams. The proposal also includes a reduction in the
daily and possession limits for black and white crappies, from 15
to 10; for sunfish, 30 to 20; and for lake trout, three to two. The
catfish limit would stay the same, but in a limit of five, only two
could be flatheads and only one, whether it be flathead or channel
cat, could be over 24 inches long.

DNR Fisheries Director Ron Payer said the basis for the
three-year examination of fish limits was to look into lowering
limits, but only where found necessary.

“Where we really needed to help out the fish, such as crappies
and lake trout, we did,” Payer said. “But where the biological data
indicated that it wasn’t necessary, such as for bass and walleye,
we didn’t think bag limit changes were warranted at this time.”

Fisheries officials expect to file a “notice of intent” early in
2002, that will include officially notifying various vested parties
of the agency’s intent to revise limits. Public hearings, complete
with an outside-the-agency arbitrator likely will follow early next
summer. It’s also possible the state Legislature could act on the
DNR’s proposal, though Payer said bag limit matters are best left
to department personnel.

Payer said the proposal wasn’t based on appeasing the
Legislature, though he said the governmental body should have
interest and oversight in the matter. But, he added, “I don’t think
it’s good to have bag limits established by the Legislature.”

New limits could have been implemented the spring of 2002, but
would now not occur until 2003. Payer said a number of items
affected the delay, including a potential state government
shutdown, the events of Sept. 11, the “traumatic” changes on Lake
Mille Lacs, and finally, a strike by state workers.

While drastic changes in limits likely would have drawn a number
of questions from angling interests, lack of change following such
an extensive look at fish limits also drew queries.

Payer said while some people expected dramatic change, others
feared too much change without proper reasoning. Fish limits hadn’t
been examined for many years in some cases as many as 70, he said.
Besides educating the public on the reason behind fish limits, the
input process which included more than 5,000 public comments, 19
public meetings statewide, and a survey of state anglers conducted
by the University of Minnesota gave the angling public a chance to
see how limits fit into the fisheries management equation.

The process, Payer said, “was not a panacea, but it’s been very
good process and I think it’s been worthwhile.”

Besides biological reasons for change, Payer said the agency
wanted to determine what anglers believe is quality fishing, or
what size structure of fish the DNR should try to promote.

Determining that was especially difficult when it came to
northern pike. The pike limit will remain at three, with one fish
over 30 inches daily. However, DNR officials will identify lakes
upon which “experimental regulations” could be used, as early as
2003, according to Payer.

As the process began a couple years ago, some pushed for a
northern pike catch-and-release slot of 24 to 40 inches. Payer said
there was low public acceptance of a slot for pike. And the agency
felt reducing a three-fish limit would do little for anglers who
desire bigger fish. In many parts of the state, pike are plentiful,
but small.

To address this issue, Payer said within the next few years the
DNR would identify 30 to 50 lakes upon which experimental pike
regulations could be tested. Currently, about half a dozen lakes in
Minnesota include experimental regs for pike, usually maximum size
limits, according to Paul Radomski, DNR Fisheries researcher in
Brainerd.

Lakes in which experimental pike regs would be implemented would
have a history of producing big northerns, and would have an ample
forage base, Radomski said. Lakes Sally and Melissa, near Detroit
Lakes, have been recent subjects of experimental pike regs and have
shown success, Radomski said.

The DNR offered reasons for why other species’ limits changed or
stayed the same:

Sunfish. Anglers across the state often have commented on the
reduction in size of their catches of sunfish. A dramatic reduction
in limit wasn’t favored by many state anglers, so the DNR opted for
a modest reduction from 30 to 20, Payer said.

Radomski said the reduction in limit likely would reduce harvest
of the fish by about 4 percent. Payer said though the harvest
reduction might be modest, at least some reduction would set the
table for possible changes in the future.

“We realize we’re not going as far as we need to in order to see
an immediate return,” Payer said. “It’s hard to make extreme
changes. When the limits are higher, like they are for sunfish,
it’s more difficult to drop them.”

Crappies. One of the recommendations for public review was a
drop from the current crappie limit of 15 to six. But Payer said
there was little support for such a decrease. Rather the agency
went with 10, realizing this decrease would slightly reduce
harvest.

Walleyes. DNR officials say walleye stocks are generally in good
shape across the state. And few anglers have complained about the
size structure of the state fish. Recent production from top lakes
such as Lake of the Woods, Mille Lacs and Winnebigoshish has been
good enough for the DNR to determine a six-fish limit remains
viable at this time.

Bass. Both largemouth and smallmouth populations are doing well,
according to the DNR. A catch and release ethic has benefitted both
species.

Northern pike. DNR officials say they’ll work with fishing and
spearing groups to determine which lakes will be the subjects of
experimental regulations. They’re also worried about the reduction
in size structure of pike in many Minnesota lakes.

Trout in streams. Overall, the DNR is pleased with the status of
brown trout in state streams. However, officials say they’ll work
with trout organizations to determine where special regulations and
habitat improvement projects would be best utilized.

Lake trout. Support for decreasing the limit from three to two
was widely accepted, according to DNR officials. Overharvest of the
species has been a concern for the agency.

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