Having dodged an effort by state legislators to thwart the planned expansion of muskie fishing in Minnesota, top fisheries managers at the Department of Natural Resources said Tuesday they have reactivated steps to introduce the species in five more lakes.
Some time this summer, staff will bring its recommendation to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr regarding which of six candidate lakes are best for low-density muskellunge stocking, said Don Pereira, fisheries chief.
“We are just going to continue,’’ Pereira said.
DNR Regional Fisheries Manager Henry Drewes of Bemidji said the yearslong muskie plan was put on hold earlier this year when opponents brought their hostility to the Legislature. The Senate added language to its Game and Fish bill to kill muskie expansion while the House sought to exclude from consideration the six lakes that are now candidates for introductory stocking. When the Legislature adjourned, the entire Game and Fish bill was unfinished and did not pass.
“Now we are taking the pause button off,’’ Drewes said.
Pereira and Drewes said the DNR will proceed by offering more meetings with opposition groups, primarily lakeshore property owners and local units of government such as the Otter Tail County Board.
The six lakes proposed for expanding the muskie range are Loon Lake, Lake Lizzie and Franklin Lake, all in Otter Tail County; along with Gull Lake in Crow Wing County, Big Marine Lake in Washington County and the Fairmont chain of lakes in southern Minnesota.
The anti-muskie sentiment centers on an assertion that large muskies will prey on walleye and panfish, ruining those native fish populations. But the DNR, based on experience and on research done in Minnesota and Wisconsin, is confident that the large predators coexist with healthy populations of walleye and other important game fish.
“We are going to address common concerns … and dispel myths,’’ Drewes said.
The agency has said muskie fishing is one of the fastest-growing segments of Minnesota sport fishing. The DNR’s long-range plan, launched several years ago, was to add eight new muskie lakes around the state by 2020. Three of those lakes — Roosevelt, Pokegema and the Sauk River Chain — already have been stocked.