Among mysteries in Minnesota’s long conservation history is the failure over many decades to form and sustain a statewide fishing advocacy group.
Ruffed grouse have supporters — the Ruffed Grouse Society — also ducks (Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Waterfowl Association), deer (the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association), wild turkeys (the National Wild Turkey Federation) and pheasants (Pheasants Forever).
Even anglers who specialize in muskies and trout, which are obviously fish, have support groups, namely Muskies Inc. and Trout Unlimited.
But fish — meaning all Minnesota finned species in the aggregate, such as crappies, bluegills, walleyes, northern pike, sturgeon and bass, among others?
Splinter groups exist in support of some of these species. But no organization represents all — meaning when fish and fishing-related issues arise in the Legislature, no one steps forward exclusively to advocate on behalf of the state’s fisheries or its anglers.
Similarly, when Department of Natural Resources managers propose regulations that affect fish and fishing, it does so absent the collective support — or objection — of Minnesota anglers.
Which is perhaps why, even though sport fishing underpins an approximately $4.5 billion economy in Minnesota, its welfare is almost entirely dependent on the money anglers spend on gear and licenses. The Legislature, for its part, directs minimal general-fund revenue to sustain an activity practiced each year by more than 1 million Minnesotans.
So: grouse, ducks, deer, pheasants, muskies and trout have their organized supporters. Why not fish?
Intending to answer that question are founders of a new group that hopes to morph from guppy size to dimensions more generally descriptive of a sturgeon.
Called mn-fish.com, the outfit is the brainchild of fishing-industry professionals that include gear and lure manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, as well guides and various others, including Al Lindner and Ron Schara.
“I got elected president because I missed the first meeting,’’ said Schara, a TV personality and retired Star Tribune outdoors columnist.
Supported by Rapala USA, headquartered in Minnetonka, among other industry blue bloods, mn-fish.com was launched last week after achieving its tax-exempt 501c3 status.
“We have a lobbying group as well, so we can work in the Legislature,’’ Schara said, noting the new group has a booth at the Northwest Sportshow.
Threats to Minnesota sportfishing include, among others, aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels, long-deferred maintenance of some public accesses, and a shortage of kids taking up fishing relative to historical norms.
“We have no intention of being a DNR-bashing outfit,’’ Schara said. “But we intend to get involved in issues important to Minnesota fishing. Our hatcheries are in tough shape, for example, and the Legislature hasn’t supplied sufficient funding. And the DNR’s angler recruitment efforts so far haven’t paid off.
“The short story is: Anglers need a voice.’’
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Too bad mn-fish.com organizers can’t resurrect Frank Schneider Jr.
The owner of an auto-body shop, Schneider, who died in 2005, was a one-man fishing-advocacy dynamo. Muskies were his specialty. But he worked tirelessly at the DNR and in the Capitol on behalf of all issues affecting fish and fishing.
Schneider’s death left a void among Minnesota angling supporters that never has been filled.
Perhaps mn-fish.com can coalesce anglers into a force that benefits Minnesota fish and fishing. If so, the group will have to connect with casual as well as serious anglers in ways previous such efforts did not, including those of the Minnesota Sportfishing Congress.
In this effort, salesmanship will be required, and a little luck. Popular as fishing is, Minnesota anglers have historically been difficult to unite. They’ll have to be convinced that any effort and money they expend to support mn-fish.com is warranted.
Additionally, while mn-fish.com must necessarily define its mission broadly enough to gain wide-ranging support, to be credible it must view with skepticism supporters whose allegiance is primarily linked to stocking more walleyes or other fish, particularly those from lobbyist private growers, absent scientific reasons to do so.
Fish and fishing in Minnesota and elsewhere are in constant flux and always have been. But threats to each, as Schara, Lindner and others argue, are in fact real and perhaps unprecedented in degree and scope.
Want to help? Give mn-fish.com a look.
More important, lend a hand. Years ago, supporters of grouse, ducks, muskies and trout did just that, and today their groups are thriving.