Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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In Minnesota, angler survey probable next step in walleye bag discussion

Rice, Minn. — It’s not a done deal, according to state fisheries managers, but responses to an upcoming survey regarding a proposal to drop the statewide walleye bag from six fish to four will be keenly watched.

That was the latest news regarding the proposal, which has been discussed and debated heavily at the past two annual DNR roundtable events, after being pushed by the DNR’s walleye working group, made up of volunteer citizens who met at the Rice City Hall on Feb. 22.

“(The survey) is our way of reaching the general anglers, many of whom don’t often express their opinions in other ways,” said Brad Parsons, the DNR’s central region fisheries supervisor, who moderates the walleye working group discussion but was speaking in a conversation with Outdoor News.

Parsons said another proposal regarding panfish size and bag limits, also floated at the 2018 Roundtable, also will appear on the survey that will include many other questions unrelated to these proposals.

Many members of the volunteer committee, such as Gary Korsgaden and others, have led the charge for the changes out of concern for the way technology is allowing anglers to apply more pressure on walleye fisheries.

“It’s important to say that there is not unanimous support for the change (among committee members), just like there won’t be with the public,” Parsons said. He added that the public will be given plenty of opportunities to comment on possible changes before any decisions are made, above and beyond the University of Minnesota-contracted human dimensions survey. “The idea came from them to get it moving and keep the discussion going.”

One of those who has expressed concern regarding potential change is Jim Justesen, of Brooklyn Center, who has previously voiced concern that lowering the limit may cause some anglers to not travel as far inside the state to pursue walleyes.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to it,” Justesen said, adding that it was being driven by social considerations rather than a need to protect the resource. “There’s no scientific data backing this up.”

Parsons acknowledged that social considerations are a factor, but said there are solid conservation reasons to go forward.

“We don’t have as many creel surveys as we’d like,” he said. “But there is no question that it could protect a fishery during a hot bite. It is more than just social. It would protect some fish and spread out the harvest a little.”

Parsons noted – as it’s been stated during the past two roundtables – that social media and the internet have made it easier for more anglers to get word of hot bites. At the same time, particularly in the winter, anglers can mobilize their wheelhouses quickly and sit over fish in comfort with the latest technology, potentially putting undue pressure on some fisheries.

“They get there almost immediately instead of, ‘You should have been here last week,’” Parsons said.

While many anglers don’t catch a limit, some of the more skilled anglers can pound on a small, local fishery.

“I think anyone would agree that the particularly good anglers are better than they used to be, thanks to GPS, sonar, wheelhouses,” he said. “All of that is way better.”

Parsons said the earliest such a change could be implemented would be 2020, repeating that much more public comment will be needed. The angler survey is expected to go out to randomly selected anglers later this winter, Parsons said.

A DNR technical committee, made up of fisheries managers, has been exploring if such a change would also require changes to the state’s “toolbox” regulations. Currently, they include a 17- to 26-inch protected slot, a minimum size limit of 17 inches, or reduced bag of three walleyes.

Those regs were due up for review, anyway, Parsons said.

He didn’t think there’d be a change for the rarely used 17-inch bag.

“If we are going to have a minimum, it has to be high enough to have a biological effect,” he said.

With the slot, there is talk of creating a 20- to 24-inch slot to open up a little bit of harvest on the lakes that have turned around during periods of the 17- to 26-inch slot. Parsons said such a change would likely only be available for lakes that were currently at the more-restrictive slot, and not a starting point for lakes looking to add a slot.

“If they have reached their goals and moved the needle, could there be a less-restrictive reg that would maintain the positive aspects while allowing more harvest?” Parsons asked.

With the reduced bag, Parsons said, the technical committee is mulling whether it could be two fish, in the event of the larger change.

“Would we go two fish? We don’t know that yet,” Parsons said, noting that on the larger question of dropping the statewide bag to four fish, some, including Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief, have floated making the statewide bag three fish.

“I don’t think people are ready for that,” Parsons said.

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