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

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DNR proposes changes to state’s fish record program

Muzkie Photo
Nolan Sprengeler (l), of Plymouth, (with helper Kevin Kray) caught this record muskie in late 2021. The state’s fish record program could change under a DNR proposal. Photo courtesy of Nolan Sprengeler

St. Paul — At the behest of Minnesota anglers who have called for changes to the state’s Record Fish Program, the DNR recently offered an official proposal that would add many more species to the catch-and-release records, while also establishing some new certified weight records. 

Minnesota’s Record Fish Program has been in place for almost 100 years. It currently recognizes categories for harvested fish based on certified weight, and released fish based on total length for a limited number of species.

“There were a lot of questions about the old, old records,” said Ron Schara, president of the fishing-advocacy group MN-FISH. “The northern pike is one. There are several, and they just hung out there way too long as far as I’m concerned, so I’m happy to see the DNR pay more attention to this because it’s a measure of things. It may not have much to do with fish management, but it certainly has something to do with our history and tradition.” 

Prior to 1980, the DNR didn’t require that weight records be documented on a state-certified scale. The DNR acknowledged in the proposal that some long-standing records may be potentially questionable.

“We’re not trying to say these records are not valid,” said Shannon Fisher, DNR Fisheries populations monitoring and regulations manager. “What we are saying is that prior to 1980, we didn’t require certified weights. We don’t have a lot of information available on some of those older records. In fact, we have no information on some of them. So there’s been a group of us talking about this for the last couple of years, and we just decided, let’s put this out there and see what people think. Thus far, the feedback has been pretty positive.”

The DNR is proposing to recognize the 12 state records established before 1980 as “state historical records.” The proposal also calls for establishing a new “certified weight record” in the category of those 12 records from before 1980. 

Fish species included in this are black crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead, channel catfish, coho salmon, common carp, flathead catfish, lake trout, northern pike, smallmouth bass, walleye, and yellow perch.

“You always want accuracy with the records,” Schara said. “It’s a slippery slope because some of those might be accurate, so what’s that say? Does it say if you caught a big fish before 1980, you’re somehow less than the others? I think we have to be careful there. If they could find some witnesses … that may not be possible, but I think every one should be really closely examined.”

Additions to catch-and-release records

Fishing strategies and the species that anglers target also have evolved to the point where the DNR said anglers are requesting more options for catch-and-release records.

There currently are four fish species eligible for catch-and-release records in Minnesota: northern pike, muskie, lake sturgeon, and flathead catfish.

“I would say in the last few years I’ve definitely gotten calls on largemouth bass, on lake trout, on channel catfish, on tiger muskies,” Fisher said. “There’s been quite a few people who have said, ‘Hey, I think I might have caught a state record of X species.’ People are wondering why we don’t have more catch-and-release records for more options.” 

The DNR is proposing that 18 species of fish be added to the catch-and-release records over a three-year span. Saying that adding all 18 species in one year would create a workload issue, the DNR proposes introducing six species per year as follows: 

2024: Blue sucker, bowfin, channel catfish, freshwater drum, shovelnose sturgeon, and tiger muskellunge. 

2025: Bigmouth buffalo, lake trout, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and smallmouth buffalo.

2026: Brook trout, brown trout, longnose gar, sauger, shortnose gar, and walleye. 

“I do like to see the catch-and-release records,” Schara said. “The record thing kind of forced a lot of people to kill a fish that they didn’t want to kill. This gives them another avenue. The fact that we’re recognizing native species is a big ethical step forward in my book.” 

A minimum starting weight or length would be established for all of the new records based on the size distribution for each species in the DNR’s lake and stream survey database. 

Fisher said they have heard feedback on the proposal from about 30 to 40 people, many from fishing-related organizations within the state.

“The responses have varied, but for the most part they’ve been pretty supportive,” Fisher said. 

He added that the DNR is not averse to anglers legally harvesting fish they want to keep.

“That’s one thing we want to emphasize, too,” he said. “We’re not out here saying everybody should be doing catch and release. Is it a great opportunity to catch and release these large fish? Sure. That’s part of why we want to do the catch-and-release options, but we’re also not averse to harvest.” 

Anglers may email their feedback on the proposal to Fisher at Shannon.fisher@state.mn.us. Any changes to the Minnesota Record Fish Program would be implemented in 2024.

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