‘The muskie population is doing well in Minnesota’

There’s perhaps not a more controversial fish in Minnesota than the muskie.

Consider the fact that in 2008, the DNR finalized a management plan that had among its goals adding eight new lakes to the muskie inventory by 2020. After last year stocking 314 muskie fingerlings into the Fairmont Chain of Lakes and 2,000 into Gull Lake, the agency has added five new lakes to the system.

It remains to be seen whether the DNR will meet the goal, according to Don Pereira, DNR Fisheries Section chief.

“I want to be careful that I don’t overpromise at this point,” said Pereira, who called the decision to stock muskies in Gull Lake one of the most “significant accomplishments” in his four years as Fisheries chief.

Muskies have been a hot topic at the Legislature in recent years, with lawmakers routinely working to put in place moratoriums on stocking muskies or adding new lakes to the muskie portfolio. While those haven’t been successful, there remains legislative interest in muskies.

During a recent hearing in his committee, for example, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria and chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, said, “The muskie population is doing well in Minnesota. There’s no question about that. It’s just how much more do we want for such few fishermen.”

Outdoor News recently caught up with Pereira to talk about the status of muskies in Minnesota. An edited version of that conversation appears below.

On some of the input the agency has received over the years:

Pereira: “Some of the advice we’ve received from critics is to choose locations carefully and find places where we will get more stakeholder support – where a majority of the community wants it. That may involve some compromising, but it is a more thoughtful way to proceed.”

On the hopes for a forthcoming angler survey:

Pereira: “We do these regular angler surveys with the (Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit) at the University of Minnesota. One of the last ones we did pertained to northern pike. These are social science surveys and with pike, it really helped us get information on the public’s opinion of the new pike regulations that go into effect next year.

“About every five years, we do a general statewide angler survey, which helps us keep our finger on the pulse of the attitudes, values, and desires of the statewide angling community. We’re a couple of years overdue for a statewide angler survey, but we are ready to roll forward with that this coming year.

“If you’ve followed the legislative debate – particularly two sessions ago – there was a lot of discussion about how many muskie anglers are in the state, and people picked and chose numbers that supported their views. In some cases, they were using surveys not designed to answer those questions. So for this survey, we’ll put together a potpourri of issues, and muskies is one we hope can help inform the debate a little bit. Just how big is the muskie-angling community, and what are reasonable goals for providing muskie-fishing opportunities?

On his belief muskie fishing is becoming more popular:

Pereira: “I think it is correct to say that muskie fishing has increased in popularity over time. If you walked into a sporting goods store 20 or 30 years ago, there might have been a couple of shelves with muskies baits on them. Now if you go in there, there are a couple of rows of muskie baits.

On the contention by some muskie anglers that there’s crowding on some fisheries:

Pereira: “The nature of how we manage muskies is solid – they are managed for low-density populations. We target one adult per every 4 to 10 surface acres. Population estimates show that, by and large, we do a good job of hitting that target.

“But muskies don’t distribute themselves randomly – they go where they want to be. You can see a recipe for how key spots can get crowded on a popular lake for muskie anglers. The request from muskie anglers to spread out pressure is a legitimate one.”

On some of the DNR’s muskie priorities in the future:

Pereira: “We need to do the survey, do better outreach, and do a better job of dispelling myths about the impact of muskies on fish communities.

“We need to work more with the spearing community to convince them muskie management will not be a threat to their sport.”

On agency efforts to evaluate muskie stocking:

Pereira: “We did a revamp and review of our muskie stocking a couple of years ago, and we are trying to clean up some of the unnecessary differences in how we stock. We want to be able to assess better how stocking is working.

“When you compare populations, it’s hard, because stocking methods were different, and that includes the rate at which we were stocking fish.”

On concerns for the future:

Pereira: “We have some native muskie waters up around the Leech Lake area that we’re concerned about and trying to do some work with – it could be habitat loss. Their spawning requirements are more exact than northern pike.

“So we do want to look at our native muskie waters and prop them up a little bit more. You can certainly find spots where we are concerned, but you can find other spots where we should be celebrating success in creating really good-quality fisheries.”

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