Minnesota’s standard walleye limit of six fish per license holder could shrink for the first time in 60 years under a review that’s in its infancy at the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), a state fisheries manager told a large gathering of anglers Friday.
“There seems to be some momentum out there right now for reduced bag limits,” said Brad Parsons, central region fisheries manager.
Parsons was one of several speakers at the annual DNR Roundtable conference to highlight changes in fishing culture, technology and regulation. The daylong event at a Bloomington hotel, also keyed to hunting and ecological issues, was attended by hundreds of invited stakeholders.
Other fishing discussions at the event centered on a major change in regulation coming for northern pike and nascent concern that bag limits are too high for Minnesota panfish. In addition, Fisheries Section Chief Don Pereira said there is trouble in the agency’s game and fish budget, which topped $92 million in fiscal 2016.
“We are retrenching quite a bit,” Pereira said.
Will the fix require higher license fees?
Pereira declined to comment but said Gov. Mark Dayton’s upcoming budget plan will address a structural deficit in the Game and Fish Operating Account Fund that projects red ink by 2020.
Parsons said the dialogue about a smaller walleye bag limit is just beginning. The overall walleye fishery isn’t impaired, he said. But a growing number of stakeholders worry how walleye populations can continue to withstand increased angling efficiency by men and women who continue to invest in ever-improved fish-finding electronics and satellite-guided navigation. A related change — announcing fishing success in real time over Facebook and other social media — intensifies fishing pressure over hot spots.
Gary Korsgaden, an angler who sits on the DNR’s walleye work group, told the audience it’s time to think about a walleye bag limit lower than six. Scores of Minnesota lakes, like Mille Lacs, Osakis, Upper Red and Crane have special walleye harvest restrictions, including lower bag limits. But the standard six-walleye limit hasn’t changed since 1956.
In a discussion led by Korsgaden, audience members also raised concerns that fishing pressure has been intensified by the use of advanced boats that keep anglers on lakes in bad weather and a growing army of mobile fish houses during the ice season.
The same equipment boom and social media usage was cited at the conference for increased pressure on panfish. Dave Thompson a member of the DNR work group on panfish, said Minnesota anglers harvest 14 million bluegills, 6 million crappies and 5 million yellow perch a year. He said biologists are trying to understand a statewide decline in perch populations.
“We believe it’s time to make that ethical reduction” in bag limits for panfish, Thompson said.
Thompson acknowledged, however, that public acceptance won’t come easy.
According to preliminary survey results released at the Roundtable by the University of Minnesota, three-fourths of respondents said panfish bag limits are right where they need to be even though most respondents think the quality of panfishing has declined.
Pereira said changes in northern pike fishing regulations took many years to formulate, but could be in place this year, possibly in time for Opening Day. The proposal now before an administrative law judge would split the state in three management zones. The biggest zone, covering central and northwestern Minnesota, would increase the bag limit to 10 northern pike in an attempt to rebalance lakes overcrowded by small “hammerhead” northerns.