Lawmakers fail to resolve dispute over muskie stocking

NISSWA, Minn. — Lawmakers left St. Paul without resolving a long-running dispute over the stocking of Minnesota lakes with muskies.

Opponents of introducing the ferocious predator fish to more lakes weren’t able to pass legislation this session to limit the practice. So anti-stocking legislation is expected to return next year.

Muskies, or muskellunge, are native to 44 Minnesota lakes and eight rivers. The DNR stocks about 48 others.

When the DNR began stocking Gull Lake near Brainerd nearly two years ago, some residents along the Gull Chain of Lakes were opposed, fearing that introducing the non-native fish would deplete populations of native walleyes and panfish.

“I’m all for muskie fishermen fishing on muskie lakes,” said Steve Frawley, who lives on Lake Margaret, up the chain from Gull. “But don’t introduce a non-native species into a lake. There’s concern about the delicate balance in our ecosystem. A lot of scientists still don’t know all the effects when you introduce a non-native fish.”

But the DNR’s fisheries chief, Don Pereira, said research shows muskies don’t harm lakes or native fish and that he’s confident “they are ecologically benign.” He said the DNR is providing opportunities to a growing number of people interested in catching the big fish.

The DNR had planned to stock eight new lakes with muskies by 2020. It stocked five, including Gull, before political pushback put the plan on hold.

A bill introduced this year by state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, would have halted muskie stocking in new lakes for five years and called for a study of the effects of muskies on native fish in Otter Tail County. A watered-down version that would have imposed the moratorium only in Otter Tail County was included in a catch-all spending bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed for unrelated reasons.

The DNR estimates about one in every six licensed Minnesota anglers target muskellunge.

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