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

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Sportsmen Since 1967

No rebound yet for marten, fisher

Grand Rapids, Minn. – The harvest of fishers and pine martens
this season – the second year of an abbreviated trapping season –
was comparable to last year. But those harvests, low by recent
standards, combined with low track counts this winter, have
officials wondering if more should be done – at least short-term –
to address their concerns about the populations of the species.

Trappers in northern Minnesota registered about 1,700 fishers
this year, just about 20 animals more than last year, a
statistically insignificant change, according to John Erb,
furbearer researcher in Grand Rapids. That occurred from Nov. 29
through Dec. 7, a nine-day season that began last year, replacing
the traditional 16-day trapping season.

“The last two years, we’ve been about 50 percent of the peak
harvest before we cut the season,” Erb said.

During the 2006 season, when fur prices skyrocketed, about 3,200
fishers were registered by trappers. Last year, a reduced harvest
reflected the shorter season, lower fur prices (and thus, fewer
trappers), and likely, a lower fisher population.

Trappers, Erb believes, have reluctantly accepted the shortened
season for the two species.

“I think most trappers accept it; I’m not saying they like it,”
he said. “There are almost no trappers who don’t agree with the
belief that those populations are down, and in some cases, down
quite a bit.”

That said, Erb believes in some areas of the fisher range,
numbers are rising. For example, no fisher harvest was reported in
Otter Tail County less than a decade ago, he said. But for the past
couple years, the county has ranked in the top three or four in the
state in number of fishers registered.

Further, some fisher accidentally were trapped in southeastern
Minnesota counties this season, Erb said.

Erb said St. Louis County was tops this year with 280 fisher
registered; however, just two years ago the harvest in that county
was 900 animals.

Meanwhile, pine marten harvest in the state dropped about 18
percent this season, from about 2,200 last year to 1,800 this year,
Erb said. That’s about 50 percent below the 2006 peak, when about
3,800 were registered.

To estimate population trends, the DNR also completes a track
survey during the winter; neither fishers nor martens made a strong
showing. Those species led to the development of the survey in the
1990s, Erb said.

The dip in fisher tracks this year wasn’t statistically
significant, but Erb said it was to the lowest level recorded since
1994, the first year of the survey. Likewise, the number of marten
tracks also was the lowest on record. He said marten numbers have
been tracking downward the past few years, while fisher track
numbers have shown more “bounce.”

A few factors might have led to the lower number this year, Erb
said. The survey was done later than ever before, the snow was some
of the deepest biologists have encountered, and the temperatures
were among the lowest. “These all have some effect on animal
activity and movement,” he said.

Erb said the DNR Furbearer Committee would discuss the
marten/fisher situation this week, and consider potential

“(Fisher and marten populations) is still a concern,” he said.
“After a couple years of shorter seasons and reduced harvest …
neither population has stabilized.”

If too many of either species were harvested in 2006, it may
simply take them more time to recover, Erb said. That’s because of
a “fairly slow reproductive rate,” he said. Neither species
reproduces at age one because of delayed implantation; in fact,
reproduction isn’t a sure bet at age 2, he said. Further, litter
size is relatively small compared with some other wildlife.

Those things considered, Erb said a sustainable harvest of the
species is about 15 to 20 percent (the same as otter). A
sustainable harvest of deer can be anywhere from 40 percent to 50
percent, while that of muskrats can be near 75 percent, he said.
Harvest of canids (foxes, coyotes, and wolves, for example) and
beavers is believed to be 30 percent or higher.


The bobcat harvest in 2008-09 was about 850 cats, the second
highest in modern history, Erb said. That harvest was second only
to the 2006 harvest of about 890 cats, and it was up about 150 from
last year, Erb said.

The bobcats this year were caught by 425 different trappers; in
2006, 466 trappers combined for the record harvest. Erb believes
more trapper focus might have been on bobcats this year, given the
shorter fisher/marten season and the fact their numbers were

The bobcat season ran Nov. 24 through Jan. 4 this year, and the
limit was five cats.

Erb said the bobcat track survey count was nearly unchanged from
last year. He said researchers have noted increases in bobcat
numbers in certain areas, particularly on the fringes of the
species’ range.


The otter harvest in 2008-09 was similar to that of last year’s
trapping season – about 1,900 this year, compared with about 1,860
last year, Erb said.

Otter harvest peaked in 2004 at about 3,500 animals, Erb said.
That likely was due to high demand (and high price) for otter

Since ’04, the harvest has slowly dropped “as fur prices
tanked,” he said.

The otter season this year ran Oct. 24 through Jan. 4 in the
north, where the limit was four animals. In the southeast, the
season ran Nov. 1 through Jan. 4 and the limit was two otters.

Otters, too, are subject to slow population recovery, and Erb
said sustainable harvest of that species, like martens and fishers,
is about 15 to 20 percent.

Jason Abraham, DNR furbearer/season-setting specialist, in St.
Paul, said the number of trapping licenses sold this year was
comparable to last – around 7,000. That’s reflection of a dip in
overall fur prices from the 2006-07 season when about 8,500
trapping licenses were sold in the state.

Abraham said the issues surrounding fishers and martens wouldn’t
be new ones as the furbearer committees begins its discussion.

“We’ve been concerned about fisher and marten populations going
back a few years now,” he said.

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