Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Legislation could mean more lake trout netting on Superior

By Joe
Albert
Associate Editor

Grand Marais, Minn. – In the latest twist in the Lake Superior
lake trout story, it now appears nets will be allowed in the lake
to take a limited number of fish.

A bill that passed the Senate last week allows commercial
fishermen to harvest and sell up to 3,000 lake trout, beginning
this summer, in Lake Superior’s Zone 3 from the Cascade River to
the Canadian Border. A version of the bill is awaiting a vote in
the House.

The bills, authored by Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Rep. David
Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, allow the ‘expanded assessment harvest’ –
opponents call it commercial netting – of lake trout between June 1
and Sept. 30. Lake Superior’s Zone 2, between Two Harbors and the
Cascade River, would be opened in 2010.

The DNR could reduce harvest quotas to protect the lake trout
population or to manage the effects of invasive species or fish
disease, according to the bills.

While the bills have met with little opposition at the Capitol,
some anglers are upset.

‘We can’t go backwards in the way we treat the environment,’
said Chuck Uhrhammer, who lives in Hovland and has fished the lake
for more than 30 years. ‘Are you going to allow this small group of
fishermen to go out there and fish like they did 100 years ago?
We’ve got to learn something from history.’

Commercial fishing at one time was active on Lake Superior, but
that fishery was closed in the early 1960s. Commercial netting and
sea lampreys are thought to be the primary causes of a collapse in
the lake’s lake trout population.

Today, commercial netters are allowed to take some lake trout as
part of an assessment fishery in which they provide data about the
fish they catch to the DNR. That also would apply to the extra fish
they would be able to harvest under the current legislation.

Harley Tofte, who owns the Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais
and is one of ‘two or three’ people actively netting in MN-3, said
the expansion would supply local grocery stores and restaurants
with fresh lake trout. He also doesn’t believe it will harm lake
trout populations.

‘We think it’s a pretty reasonable request, and we’ve done a lot
of work on it,’ he said. ‘There’s overwhelming public support for
it all along the North Shore and all over.’

Plus, the DNR will get information about things such as lamprey
wounding and scale samples, ‘free of charge.’

‘It’s basically for information, but it allows the commercial
fishermen to keep the fish as they are doing this assessment,’
Tofte said.

The DNR has said, from a biological perspective, the lake trout
population in MN-3 could sustain the additional pressure from
commercial netting. Lake trout no longer are stocked there.

Early versions of the most recent Lake Superior 10-year
Management Plan included the commercial netting provision but it
was left out of the final draft after officials expressed concern
about increased sea lamprey wounding and the possibility that
budgets for sea lamprey control could be cut.

According to a letter sent by the DNR last year: ‘Based on this
uncertainty, the highly productive sport fishery, and the statewide
philosophy of curtailing commercial netting for sport fish, we have
decided not to implement the proposed expansion of lake trout
assessment netting at this time.’

The introduction of the bills in the Legislature followed the
DNR’s decision. That didn’t sit well with some anglers.

‘The whole thing was just under-handed,’ said Dale Lappi, a lake
trout angler from Hovland. ‘It’s an absolute travesty.’

Both Lappi and Uhrhammer say they’re concerned about how the
increased harvest will affect the lake, especially in the face of
such threats as sea lampreys, rising water temperatures, and
diseases like viral hemorrhagic septicemia.

‘There’s all these ecological things that are happening,’ Lappi
said. ‘It can’t help.’

But Tofte said the increased netting won’t make a
difference.

‘I’m guessing there will just be two or three people at the
most,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be a real minimal thing here.’

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