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

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Groups hail progress on trout plan for southeast

Contributing Writer

St. Paul In an attempt to work out some of the disagreements
surrounding the proposed long-term trout management plan for
southeast Minnesota streams, Minnesota DNR Fisheries officials met
last Wednesday with the Minnesota Trout Association and Trout
Unlimited two major trout interest groups that have been at
loggerheads with the agency on the plan.

The meeting, which lasted more than four hours, was a “complete
success” in clearing the air and reaching a consensus on many
issues affecting the southeast Minnesota trout resource, say TU and
MTA members who attended the meeting in St. Paul.

“In my view, we’ve made substantial progress with the DNR on a
new initiative for trout in the southeast,” said Jeff Broberg, MTA
president. “Not everything is resolved, but the draft proposal
could turn out to be an excellent document. I’m excited.”

The draft proposal, as its currently written, would provide
angling opportunities under three tiers or headings: trophy trout,
wild trout and catchable trout. According to Mark Ebbers, DNR trout
and salmon program consultant, special regulations for various
streams will be capped at 175 stream miles.

For trophy trout, the draft proposal calls for a 12- to 16-inch
trout slot limit and no-kill restrictions for an undetermined
number of streams. Those regulations will be posted on streams
beginning next spring, with public input meetings to follow next
fall. According to Ebbers, the agency will make a decision on
special regulations next November, with implementation in spring of
2005.

In addition, the DNR will conduct habitat improvement work on
targeted streams to help bolster trout size structure. “We will be
working on a habitat improvement list throughout the winter,”
Ebbers said.

Ebbers estimates the agency can improve roughly two miles of
stream per year under the six-year, long-range plan. “That’s about
the average of what we can do,” he said.

Under the draft proposal, the DNR also will establish a
“dedicated habitat improvement crew” in the southeast. That crew
will work with cold-water fisheries officials from the Wisconsin
DNR, specifically one of its trout habitat specialists, Dave
Vetrano, who invented lunker structures and is considered a leading
innovator in trout habitat improvement.

“That’s something we intend to do this coming summer,” Ebbers
said. “I’ve talked to Vetrano and he’s agreed to help us. We will
send our crew over there.”

The momentum from last Wednesday’s meeting comes on the heels of
September’s trout stream tour at which the DNR, TU and MTA
discussed several issues facing southeast Minnesota trout
fisheries. The tour, MTA and TU officials say, went a long ways
towards opening up the lines of communication with the DNR and
smoothing some long-held disagreements. Prior to the tour, in
August, MTA and TU boycotted a southeast Minnesota trout stream
roundtable meeting hosted by the DNR, saying in part that too many
“constituents” were invited.

“The stream tour was the start,” Broberg said. “DNR Commissioner
Gene Merriam was there, and he provided the leadership we all
needed to get this thing going in a positive direction. He stressed
that we need to build on our strengths, that we have to put past
disagreements behind us, and that we have to look towards the
future to improve our trout resource. I think we now have a real
opportunity here to build a strong trout program.”

Duke Hust, Minnesota TU vice chairman for governmental
relations, agrees. “I thought the meeting with the DNR last week
went extraordinarily well,” he said. “I now think the two trout
organizations and the DNR are singing on the same page.”

Under the draft proposal, wild trout waters would be managed for
sustainable populations of naturally reproducing trout. Stocking
likely will be reduced or suspended on some streams that have
solid, naturally reproducing brown trout, Ebbers said.

Traditional or catchable waters will include those that depend
heavily on stocking. The streams would cater to anglers who want to
“catch a meal,” or who want to increase their odds of catching a
fish. Under traditional management, current regulations would
likely stay the same. “We will keep stocking catchable-sized
rainbows in some waters,” Ebbers said. “Anglers want that, and we
will continue it.”

Under the draft plan, the DNR also would put no-kill regulations
on 40-miles of nondesignated trout waters a move that’s supported
by MTA and TU but could garner criticism from some quarters. “This
is something that many, many anglers and groups wanted,” Ebbers
said. “But I’m sure will hear about it from some.”

Said Broberg: “Nondesignated waters have big fish, and I think
it’s wise to protect them. Once the word gets out on a stream, a
lot anglers target the big fish.”

The good news, according to the DNR, is that the southeast trout
population is healthy. Population surveys indicate that are more
trout in southeast streams than anytime in the last 30 years. In
fact, the trout population of mostly browns, but also of brookies
and rainbows has tripled since 1970. In addition, the average
number of browns more than 12 inches long increased from 26 per
stream mile in the 1970s to 55 in the 1990s.

The DNR also plans to hire a new cold-water fisheries
coordinator in the southeast, replacing Mark Heywood, who retired
in October. The interview process will likely start this month.

Tori J. McCormick is a freelance outdoors writer living in Red
Wing. He can be contacted at torimccormick@juno.com.

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