Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Merriam tells Jacobs he can release tourney fish


St. Paul DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam found himself embroiled
in a bass tournament brouhaha early this week when it became public
that he gave a catch-and-kill bass event the option of releasing
its fish.

Boat manufacturer and Wal-Mart FLW Tournament sponsor Irwin
Jacobs called Merriam in July to protest a point in the permit for
his Great Lakes Division event held Sept. 6-7 near Red Wing on the
Mississippi River.

Merriam agreed with Jacobs’ complaint and overruled DNR
Fisheries on a permit requirement that the fish be killed after the
weigh-in. The event already had been approved for an off-site
weigh-in, but because of concern that those fish were more likely
to die if released, DNR Fisheries included the restriction that the
fish be killed following the weigh-in.

Merriam said he reviewed the agency’s statutes and rules on
tournaments and concluded that the agency didn’t have the statutory
authority to require that the fish be killed.

“And beyond that, I don’t think it’s good policy to require that
tournaments kill fish,” he said.

Merriam said he recognizes that the flip side argument of
releasing tournament fish is that some will be found belly-up, so
it’s better to fillet them and give them to local food shelves.

“But my logic is, do we want to send the message that at a time
when we’re arguing for catch and release that we mandate killing
tournament fish, even though a high percentage of them will live?”
he said.

In 1997, a similar off-site weigh-in at the Mall of America
generated a flurry of debate about the ethics of off-site events
and tournament bass fishing in general. The controversy ultimately
resulted in stricter permitting procedures for tournaments around
the state.

The new procedures have kept a respectable peace in recent
years, until the Star Tribune reported the latest controversy on
Tuesday. Jacobs called the recent news reports overblown and said
he simply didn’t want to kill fish when many would survive if
released after the weigh-in at the Hastings Wal-Mart.

His event uses “state-of-the-art” technology, including special
aerated, oxygenated tanks to keep fish healthy when transporting
them, he said. An off-site weigh-in remains his events’ and the
sport’s best option, he said, because “there would be no
tournaments without sponsors.”

Jacobs said that had Merriam rejected his request, the event
likely would have proceeded anyway, but would have been forced to
follow the terms of the permit.

“Had he said no’, it would have been no,’ ” Jacobs said.

DNR Fisheries Division Director Ron Payer said he expects the
agency may see an increase in requests for off-site weigh-ins given
the commisioner’s recent decision.

“We’ve had requests in the past from some of the bigger
tournaments, and I would expect we’ll see some increase, but I’m
not sure how many,” Payer said. “We’ll talk to them about the
conditions, but if they want an off-site weigh in, and a release
format, they can do that.”

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