New format would simplify special fishing regulations
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is introducing a new format that would simplify special possession limits and length-based regulations for four species of game fish on individual lakes.
Known as a regulation toolbox, this format would help DNR fisheries managers maintain and improve the state's walleye, bass, crappie and sunfish populations on individual lakes through simple and commonly applied regulations. Toolbox regulations, which would be implemented only with public review and support, are more restrictive than the existing statewide regulations.
The outcome, according to Ron Payer, manager of the DNR Section of Fisheries, would be to have fewer variations of special regulations yet potentially apply them to more water bodies. "Ultimately, this will be simpler for anglers who would have fewer regulations to remember," he said.
Interest at the local level would determine how many lakes are considered for toolbox regulations. Each of the 28 area fisheries managers across the state will be asked to consider regulations in the toolbox first when selecting regulations to meet the management needs of a specific water body.
Payer said the new format would also be an agenda item for discussion among angling groups at the fishing roundtable in January.
Specifically, the regulation toolbox contains three specialized regulations for walleye, three for crappie, two for bass, and one for sunfish. Each of the nine regulation options is restrictive enough to result in a measurable difference in fish size or quality.
"Many special regulations, though socially and politically acceptable, have not resulted in a measurable difference in size or quality," Payer said. "Simply put, regulations that require no pain result in no gain in fish size or quality."
Generally, bass and walleye populations are considered in good shape statewide, especially in the state's large natural walleye lakes. Therefore, the proposed bass and walleye regulations are designed to maintain the populations, he said. Conversely, the average-sized sunfish and crappie has been on a downward trend for many years. In the case of sunfish, the regulation will help maintain current size where populations of large sunfish already exist. For crappie, the proposed regulation aims to improve the population.
DNR teams comprised of research and field biologists developed the nine regulation options in the toolbox. Each team reviewed years of data and literature to determine regulations that have succeed in other states and have the best potential for working in Minnesota.
Aside from alleviating confusion for anglers, the regulation toolbox should improve fisheries management in several ways. Fisheries managers will have ready-made regulations that could be tailored to their work area, leaving more time for productive discussion with anglers and others who support conservation regulations. Another benefit, according to Payer, is that researchers will be better able to measure the success of each regulation because it will be applied to a greater number of lakes. Fisheries managers would also be able to consider options outside the regulations toolbox if there are significant special circumstances.
Citizens or local fisheries managers who want more restrictive regulations on an individual lake to maintain or improve the fishery would be encouraged to consider the regulations from the group of toolboxes first. Once a regulation is agreed upon, the state's rule-making process would begin. The process includes posting the proposed regulation change at public boat-launching sites, publishing notices in the local newspaper and conducting public meetings in pertinent counties and St. Paul, if necessary. This process is used for all existing experimental and special regulations.
Toolbox regulation options for specific species are:
Walleye: three fish possession limit, 17-inch minimum size limit, or 17 to-26 inch protected slot size limit.
Largemouth and smallmouth bass: No harvest or a 12-inch maximum size limit. Both of the above regulations include the option of allowing harvest of one fish over 20 inches based on being able to keep a trophy fish.
Sunfish: Five fish possession limit
Crappie: Five fish possession limit, 10-inch minimum size limit, or a 5 fish possession limit with a 10-inch minimum size limit. Current special regulations will remain in effect. Special regulations now in place are reviewed regularly and may be modified to fit within toolbox specifications when they are evaluated.
To learn more, anglers are encouraged to contact their local fisheries manager or visit the DNR Website at www.dnr.state.mn.us.