MN: Per new law, DNR starts to drop pike-reg waters

St. Paul – Per legislation that passed during this year’s
special session, DNR Fisheries is in the process of paring the
number of lakes in the state that have slot limits aimed at
improving northern pike size structure. Opponents believe slot
limit removal will increase pike spearing opportunities.

Dirk Peterson, Fisheries chief, said DNR officials are planning to
meet soon with legislative committee members to offer the DNR’s
recommended course of action. In the end, Peterson said he believes
about 15 lakes will have protected slot limits for northern pike
removed.

“We want to explain to them how we’ll likely make changes to lakes
that have protected slots,” he said. Field staff currently are
evaluating data on lakes that have northern pike slots.

The number of lakes with northern pike slots must be reduced to 100
by Nov. 1. All told, Peterson said, there are 119 “waters” in the
state with special or experimental regulations – from slots to
catch-and-release only, to special bag limits. Those waters
encompass 132 lakes. Some catch-and-release waters include lakes
within state and county parks that can’t withstand harvest, he
said.

The legislation refers only to lakes with slot limits; there are
102 waters, and 115 lakes with various slots, the most common a 24-
to 36-inch protected slot, where one pike over 36 inches is allowed
in possession.

The 100-lake limit, Peterson said, was a compromise; some earlier
legislation called for reducing the number to 60 lake with special
slots rules.

Any reduction was opposed by the DNR, which has in its “Long-Range
Plan for Muskellunge and Large Northern Pike Management (2008),” a
goal of 125 waters with special pike regulations.

“What happens is the legislation constrains us from considering any
new lakes for special regulations for the next 10 years,” said
Henry Drewes, the DNR’s regional fisheries manager in
Bemidji.

Further, of the “toolbox” of management regulations the department
devised in 2003 for various species, northern pike regs appear to
have worked the best, Drewes said.

“It’s the only length-based regulation that’s an effectively proven
regulation,” he said. “That’s a tool that’s been taken out of the
box for the next 10 years.”

Drewes said the lakes with special pike regulations are distributed
across the state. The northwest region, which Drewes oversees, has
48 of the 119 waters with special regulations. He said
“concentrations” of waters with northern pike regs are around
Bemidji, Walker, and Park Rapids.

Most of the lakes with northern pike slots came in 2003, according
to Peterson. It was established then that about 10 years would be
needed to determine the effectiveness of the regulations.

Prior to 2003, Peterson said, there were 32 experimental/special
regulation waters. Another 66 were added that year for a total of
98 waters. A few have been added to the inventory each year
since.

(An example of “water,” Peterson said, might be a small lake that’s
attached to a larger one, like Little Woman’s connection to Woman.
Both are included for angler convenience, better data, and
enforcement simplicity.)

Peterson said the law would effectively “lock” 100 lakes into
special northern pike regulations for the next 10 years.

As some rules are for other fish species, the northern pike slots
were in most cases meant to improve the overall size structure of
pike in a lake, Drewes said.

In some cases – depending on the lake – the regulation could
produce a trophy pike fishery, but more often, the regulation was
meant to increase the number of medium-sized pike, Drewes said. A
better size structure can improve a lake’s fish community, he
said.

In many cases, a larger pike size structure results in fewer
“hammer handle” northerns, he said. Fewer pike at the low end of
the size spectrum reduces pressure on a primary forage fish, perch,
leaving more for the lake’s walleyes.

But, Drewes adds, slot regulations don’t work for all lakes.
“That’s why we have a planned management system,” he said, which
includes implementation, evaluation, review, adjustment.

In other words, after a predetermined time is up, data are reviewed
and the department may recommend continuation of the regulation,
changes to it, or dropping it.

Drewes said he’s seen changes in angler attitude since the DNR
first rolled out its series of special regulations in 2003.

“I think people are getting used to (special regs) … if they go
out on a lake, they check to see if it has a special regulation,”
he said. “And everybody has a ruler in the boat now.”

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