Pike plan altered to appease spearers

Brooklyn Center, Minn. — The Minnesota DNR’s proposed northern pike regulation overhaul has been changed, with separate regulations for darkhouse spearing, among other changes.

The DNR is hoping to deal with the issue of decades of medium to large pike being selectively removed from lakes, which has resulted in high densities of small pike and other associated and compounding problems.

“Populations then respond by increased recruitment and production of small pike,” Gary Barnard, DNR Bemidji area fisheries supervisor, said at last Friday’s Roundtable. “They are basically trying to fill that void with new, young pike. … The competition among those pike slows the growth, which compounds the problem. They stay small longer. You see a decline in the forage base.”

The DNR wants to get away from a one-size-fits-all statewide regulation, since three regions of the state have different issues and factors affecting pike, so it proposed three pike management zones, each with its own regulations.

“As we dug into this thing, what we found is it’s not really a statewide issue, but it’s most prevalent in the north central zone here,” Barnard said. “These other areas of the state don’t have this problem. … Those differences tell you why one statewide regulation isn’t effective in managing this problem.”

All three zones would see changes made to them, though the only change to the southern zone, where pike tend to grow faster but have shorter life spans, was the boundaries of that zone, which shifted south a bit to encompass some “outlier lakes,” Barnard said.

There, regulations for all anglers, including spearers, are proposed to be a two-fish bag limit and a minimum length limit of 24 inches.

In the north central zone, there would be a 10-fish bag limit for all anglers, including spearers. A 22- to 26-inch protected slot with two fish over 26 inches would remain in place, but would not apply to spearers, who would be allowed one fish between 22 and 26 inches and one fish longer than 26 inches, or two fish longer than 26 inches.

“This will allow those fish to grow and keep them protected so that they can improve that size distribution,” Barnard said. “That should guide the numbers of small fish down. … It’s a very narrow slot that will allow fish to grow back into the harvest fishery eventually and produce fish over 26 inches. That’s an important part of this.”

Of the different regs for spearers, he said, “It’s sort of that mistake fish, if a spearer misjudges size.”

In the northeast zone, there were changes made for all types of fishing, not just spearing. Here, where northerns tend to grow slower but also can reach trophy potential because of less pressure, there was resistance to the proposed 30-inch maximum, with a desire for trophy harvest opportunity. So for anglers, a 30- to 40-inch protected slot would be put in place, with one fish allowed longer than 40 inches.

“It will function biologically very similar to the maximum size limit, but it will still provide that memorable trophy opportunity,” Barnard said.

The proposed spearing regulation in the northeast zone would be one fish longer than 26 inches. Anglers and spearers would be subject to a two-fish daily bag in the northeast zone.

“It is less restrictive than the angling regulation for fish over 30 inches, but it’s actually more restrictive than the angling regulation for fish between 26 and 30 inches. There’s a tradeoff between the two.”

Barnard said one of the challenges was dealing with the spearing regulations.

“We know we need length-based regulations with pike,” Barnard said. “You have to manage small pike differently than you manage big pike. But we also know length-based regulations are not very compatible with spearing. It’s hard to judge size.” 

Public comment on the proposal opened in June via the DNR’s website, where there were 596 comments through November. Another 77 comments came in through public meetings and mail in late August and early September.

John Underhill, of the Minnesota Muskie and Pike Alliance, voiced support for the changed regulations, which appear to be headed next for legislative approval in 2016 and could be implemented in 2017.

“We are fine with the changes,” he said after the presentation.

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