As anglers, biologists, resort owners, and lake shore property owners we are shocked and dismayed that legislators are seriously considering bills that will mandate lower quality northern pike fishing. If these bills (House File 225 and Senate File 213) becomes law they will limit the number of lakes managed for large northern pike to 60 out of the state’s 3,351 northern pike lakes and will go a long way to destroy 25-years of hard work to improve our fisheries.
For the past 25 years, the DNR has taken a science-based approach to improve northern pike populations. Many strategies have been evaluated and after years of research it has become clear that length-based regulations like slot limits are the best tool to improve pike populations while still allowing harvest.
Regulations are now in place on 106 lakes based on sound management including evaluation, public input, and public approval. Regulations are only in place where their effectiveness can be evaluated and are only continued if they work and have strong public support. Where they do not work or where there is strong opposition, the regulations are discontinued. The implementation, evaluation, and public support for these regulations are a fisheries management success story.
It is mind boggling that the legislature is even considering a bill that would take away tool that is proven and effective. At a recent Senate hearing, a lake association representative, anglers, and the DNR all testified strongly against this bill because they know, as we do, that these northern pike regulations work. In most lakes with regulations, the average size and number of large pike has dramatically increased. We know this not only because of DNR evaluations, but because we fish these lakes. Capping the number of lakes with regulations at 60 simply does not make sense.
The arguments that supposedly support this legislation do not make sense either. Based on testimony, we are supposed to believe that these regulations are examples of the DNR “overmanaging”, that “spearers do not often bother spearing on lakes with special northern regulations for fear of accidentally catching fish within the protected slot.", and that they just “want to take some fish home to eat.” While this may be good political rhetoric, it is fails miserably as a rationale for managing the state fisheries.
First, management through regulations works just as intended. We call this “effective management” not “over management”. Second, in a recent statewide survey conducted by the U of M, 80% of spearers responded that they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with northern pike spearing. Third, there are 3,351 northern pike lakes in Minnesota covering 2.17 million acres. 97% of the lakes and 71% of the total acres of these waters statewide do not have regulations. There are plenty of opportunities to harvest northern pike on lakes without regulations.
The effect of these bills will go beyond northern pike. In biological terms, large northern pike are a “keystone” predator that are critical to keeping fish communities balanced.
Large northern pike are no longer common in most Minnesota lakes. Instead, we have lakes full of “hammer-handle” small northerns - a condition with which most Minnesota anglers are far too familiar. When hammer-handles take over, yellow perch populations crash, populations of small sunfish often explode, and walleye stocking often becomes futile.
These bills are an unfortunate example of heavy-handed legislative overreach apparently based on misinformation from a small group. Minnesota has 1.5 million licensed anglers. There are up to 15,000 darkhouse spearers and 80% of them are satisfied with their opportunities. Enacting these bills into law is counter to good science, good planning, and good fisheries management. We can’t possibly understand how the legislature could be seriously considering these laws that will take opportunities away from 99% of the angling public just to appease a small fraction of anglers.
If this bill passes, the DNR will be mandated to immediately remove regulations from 46 lakes. We can only wonder when they will start mandating the number of lakes with walleye or bass regulations or the number of trout streams with regulations and then start dictating what size limits should be. This is policy making at its worst and we encourage all anglers to step up now and let their legislators and the Governor know that they should oppose such nonsense.
Vern Wagner, Vice President Anglers For Habitat