Gull Lake: Minnesota’s newest muskie water?
Brainerd, Minn. — Intermingled in a crowd stacked with passionate, in some cases seething, opposition to the DNR’s proposal to begin stocking muskies into Gull Lake next year lurked a considerable number of muskie supporters.
Through a barrage of negative comments, however, the muskie fans remained quiet, biding their time to avoid escalating the mood of the crowd and making their voice heard via comment card or email.
It was the first of public input meetings held around the state as the DNR seeks to meet the demands of its 2009 long-range muskie management plan, which sought to add eight new muskie waters by 2020. It also held meetings regarding Big Marine Lake in Washington County, the Fairmont Chain near Windom, and one of either the Franklin, Lizzie, or Loon chains near Pelican Rapids.
As evident at this meeting, held at the Crow Wing County Land Services Building on Dec. 2, not everybody is in favor of the expansion of the toothy, top-of-food-chain predator. And, in fact, it’s not the first time opposition has surfaced over the idea of stocking muskies into Gull Lake.
Joe Fraune, the retired former DNR Brainerd area fisheries supervisor, followed a series of citizens, which consisted largely of folks who spoke in opposition, several of whom said they were already concerned about the lake’s walleye population.
Fraune grabbed the microphone and then walked to the front of the room to address the entire crowd as DNR officials had been doing, whereas citizens had spoken from their seats.
“I think (muskies) are a bad fit for the lake,” Fraune said after mentioning his 30-year career with the DNR.
Fraune said that with climate change, there are increased die-offs among bait fish, particularly of tullibees, a main forage of muskies, walleyes, and northern pike.
“I do know that the lake will only support so many numbers of fish per acre,” he said.
Fraune’s comments did not sit well with Greg Kvale, also a retired DNR employee who had worked with Fraune on land acquisition through his role in the DNR Forestry Division.
Kvale, a board member of the Minnesota Muskie & Pike Alliance, contacted Outdoor News a few days after the meeting to make the point that Fraune was as responsible as anybody for muskies not being more widely distributed in the Brainerd area.
“You won’t find a muskie lake stocked in that particular work area because Joe hated them,” Kvale said. “Joe would never make any proposals, and nobody was willing to override Joe’s local authority. I have had personal discussion with him about this. He said once that there would never be a muskie lake stocked in his work area, and that’s verbatim.”
The DNR circulated maps of the area, showing that there were only a handful of muskie waters within a 30-mile radius of Brainerd, outside of the Mississippi River and Lake Mille Lacs.
DNR officials, including Marc Bacigalupi, the current Brainerd area fisheries manager, said that no negative impacts would be expected from adding muskies, which are stocked at a low density to the lake. He added that Gull Lake was chosen because it appears to be the best candidate for a muskie population to do well.
Bacigalupi cited a DNR survey of anglers on Gull Lake that showed that 30 percent opposed muskies being stocked in the lake, while 41 percent were in favor and 29 percent were undecided or indifferent to the idea.
But Uldis Birznieks, board chairman of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association, said after the meeting that his group surveyed its members and all lakeshore property owners on the Gull chain. That survey found only 22 percent in favor of muskies, with 70 percent opposed.
“Our concern is that a lot of folks on Gull like to fish for walleyes and we have a big problem with them right now,” Birznieks said. “Why do we want to introduce a new variable? We just want to make sure fish aren’t impacted, and if they aren’t, maybe it’s OK.”
Eric Poissant, a board member of the St. Cloud Muskies, Inc. chapter, took issue with Birznieks survey, because it ignores anglers while giving all its weight to property owners who don’t own the lake, he said after the meeting.
“People fishing the lakes are the ones that I want to hear from, regardless of whether or not they live on the lake or own property on the lake,” Poissant said. “We are all taxpayers and have a stake in the lake.”
Poissant said he was frustrated that those who oppose muskies aren’t swayed by science and the notion that muskies won’t have a negative effect, and in some cases have been good for the balance of the lake’s fish populations.
“Why is every great walleye lake in the state also a muskie lake?” he said.
Before the meeting started, Joe Mix, DNR assistant regional fisheries manager for northeast Minnesota, made the same point, mentioning Lake of the Woods, and Leech and Vermilion lakes.
“Some of our best walleye lakes are muskie lakes,” Mix said.
Bacigalupi said while public input will be factored in, the decision on whether or not to stock Gull with muskies would not come down to the number of people for and against the proposal.
“It’s not as clear as counting votes,” he said. “We’re considering what specific concerns are for each lake.”
Chris Kavanaugh, DNR northeast region fisheries manager, noted that public input meetings tend to bring out only the most passionate, noting that all public comment will be considered, whether it was made in person or mailed in. Public input is open until Jan. 3, he said.
The DNR’s recommendations will be made in February, at which point the DNR will explain to the public how and why decisions were made, Bacigalupi said.