Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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MN-FISH priorities fit with the DNR’s during 2023 legislative session

This image depicts the poor drainage in ponds at the Minnesota DNR’s Waterville Area Fish Hatchery. The ponds are not shaped correctly and water doesn’t fully drain, which results in fish getting stuck in the pond and staff having to wade through the mud to make sure fish are not missed when draining the ponds. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota DNR)

St. Paul — MN-FISH, an organization that advocates for anglers and fish-related policy through the state Legislature, recently met with Gov. Tim Walz and the DNR on separate occasions to discuss the group’s legislative recommendations.

The state has about a $17 billion surplus this session, and Mark Holsten, executive director of MN-FISH, said he hopes some of that money will go to projects that benefit both fish and anglers.

“Minnesota angling is a $4.4 billion industry in the state,” Holsten said. “It has a massive economic impact. It generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the state in tax revenue. None of that money has been coming back to reinvest in facilities or into the management of our fisheries.”

MN-FISH says it has three priorities for the 2023 session:

Fish hatcheries
This image is an example of the eroding pond dikes at the Waterville Area Fish Hatchery. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota DNR)

MN-FISH is advocating for $60 million to improve and construct fish hatcheries across the state. The DNR also has fish hatcheries as a priority in its budget proposal for the upcoming year.

Holsten said many of the state’s fish hatcheries were constructed in the 1950s and need improvements.

In 2019, the DNR released a report that said it cost $40 million to update fish hatcheries. Now, given inflation, that number could be over $100 million.

“If you look at our legislative agenda, we’ve been advocating now for over a year to reconstruct or modernize our fish hatchery systems and make them state of the art,” Holsten said.

This image is an example of a failing water control structure at Waterville Area Fish Hatchery. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota DNR)

There are 15 hatcheries, but Holsten said the $60 million should focus on Waterville and Crystal Springs. These two hatcheries are on the DNR’s must-do list, too. There would also be enough money to work on design and engineering for the Spire Valley hatchery.

Public water accesses

There are more than 1,700 public water access points in the state, and Holsten said many are in need of improvements. MN-FISH is advocating for $37 million to help create better water accesses for anglers.

He added that not all access points require extensive repair, but many need improvements. Whether it’s a new dock or gravel for the access or a new ramp, the $37 million would improve access for anglers, kayakers, or any other users.

“Some (accesses) need to be totally rebuilt, we know that,” Holsten said. “Some just need gravel and a new dock. Some need new ramps. The list is wide and variable.”

Shore fishing and piers

Holsten said MN-FISH wants to see improvements to public fishing piers as well as the shorelines so people can fish without needing a watercraft.

There isn’t a specific dollar amount requested yet, but Holsten said the group is working with the DNR to figure out how much money might be needed. Much of these improvements would be focused on the metro area.

Ron Schara, president of MN-FISH, reiterated in a Star Tribune opinion piece on Sunday the need for funding for fishing.

Holsten said the discussion with the DNR a couple of weeks ago went well, as MN-FISH’s priorities line up with those of the department. As for the group’s discussion with Walz last Friday, Jan. 13, Holsten said he couldn’t comment on any specific details at this time.

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