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Public input helps balance fishing today and in future generations

May 12, 2014

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Don Pereira was named Minnesota’s chief of fisheries late last year. As a 30-year veteran of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Pereira talks about his vision for managing the state’s 5,400 fishing lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and streams.

How would you characterize fishing in Minnesota in 2014?

In general, it’s excellent. That doesn’t mean every angler is destined to catch a fish.

It does, however, mean that we have a wide diversity of species and an abundance of outstanding fishing opportunities.

Think about it. Our walleye fishing is well known throughout the nation.

We offer some of the best muskellunge fishing in the country. Bass fishing is good. The Red River offers amazing catfish opportunities.

The big rivers in southern Minnesota hold spectacular flathead catfish.

And there’s great trout fishing in Lake Superior and the streams of northeastern and southeastern Minnesota.

We’re known for species variety, size quality and beautiful lakes.

That’s why we rank second in the nation only to Alaska as an inland angling destination.

What’s driving fishing quality?

It’s a function of many things but most important is habitat.

Fish need places to spawn, rear young, forage, hide from predators and do other things as part of an interrelated natural system.

When an element of the system disappears, so does the potential to have a strong and balanced fish population.

That’s why we emphasize the need for habitat conservation and sound land use practices that keep water clean and clear.

Research. Regulations. Enforcement. Voluntary catch-and-release. These and other factors also are key to fishing quality.

What’s your vision for managing Minnesota fish and fishing?

I’ve told staff we are going to focus on what’s most important to good fish populations and fishing recreation – that’s habitat conservation, collecting the data we need to make science-based decisions, and listening to our public.

I’m particularly interested in the latter, especially reassessing the way we engage the public.

On the administrative side I’m deeply committed to identifying efficiencies for better results.

What efficiencies have been made in the past?

Walleye stocking is an area where we made significant gains.

We’ve fine-tuned walleye fingerling stocking rates for maximum results.

We’ve expanded walleye fry stocking in the name of cost reductions and higher return rates to the angler.

We’re also doing a statewide evaluation of our walleye program to identify efficiencies and new opportunities.

I’d say our investments in clean water and habitat are also efficiencies.

That’s because the best business model is to have nature replenish fish populations.

Currently, about 80 to 85 percent of Minnesota’s walleye are from natural in-lake production. We need to keep natural production at a high level.

Do you envision any “out of the box” changes?

What I envision is sound science and an engaged public in decision making.

In the near-term, any out of the box efforts will likely relate to northern pike management.

Northern pike have been problematic for decades because of low harvest rates of small pike and high harvest of the relatively few large pike.

As a result, most lakes have northern pike populations dominated by fish of a size that people aren’t overly interested in catching or keeping.

So, we are exploring a zoned approach to northern pike management.

This approach would encourage the expanded taking of smaller northern pike in some parts of the state and protect big fish in others.

We’ve never done this before.

We’ll take public comment if we move forward with this concept.

But it has the potential to address angler and fish manager desires.

What do you view as the biggest threat to fishing?

The most insidious threat to healthy fisheries is the piece-by-piece degradation of habitat that occurs over time.

That’s why I am such a strong advocate for robust habitat and clean water conservation efforts funded through the Legacy Amendment and other sources.

When you look at our agency’s history we’ve made great progress in designing and implementing special fishing regulations that maintain the size quality of our fish.

We’ve also done a good job rearing fish, stocking fish and monitoring fish populations.

Now is the time to invest more heavily in protecting nature’s fish factory.

Nutrient loading and siltation rates of our waters are not sexy themes but what happens on the land affects our water and ultimately the quality of our fishing.

What’s the most challenging part of being fisheries chief?

The big challenge is finding the right balance between how many fish an angler can take home and eat and how many fish must be returned to the water so they create future generations of fish or provide high quality fishing experiences. It’s a fine line.

That’s why our social science studies and citizen engagement processes are so important.

Where has citizen input had the most impact?

Perhaps the best example is our special fishing regulations.

Twenty-four years ago we met with a group of anglers who were concerned about the declining average size of Minnesota’s fish.

This was meeting was the first Fisheries Roundtable.

That meeting led to what we called individual lake management, which meant developing and applying certain restrictive harvest regulations tailored to the needs of specific lakes for the purpose of increasing the number of medium- and large-sized fish.

It was controversial at the time but is widely accepted now.

This input ultimately reversed downward size trends for a number of fish species, thereby allowing anglers to catch larger fish while also providing opportunities to take home a meal.

Have you fished lately, and how was it?

My most recent trip was to the Rainy River for the spring lake sturgeon season.

I caught two fish in the mid-50 inch range.

It was an amazing experience – an experience with roots clear back to the habitat improvements generated by the Clean Water Act of the 1970s.

Better water quality led to an improved fishery that has sparked growth in the early season fishing economy in the Baudette area.

It took decades to occur but is a welcome sight today.

Ladies night offered Tuesdays at Waverly Gun Club

Waverly Gun Club will be offering ladies only nights the second Tuesday of the month, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The events will take place May 13, June 10, July 8, Aug. 12, Sept. 9, and Oct. 14.

No membership is required. Instruction will be available upon request. A National Rifle Association certified range safety officer will be present on the shooting line. Participants will shoot from the comfort of a shelter.

Targets, rifles, and .22-caliber pistols will be provided for no charge by the Waverly Gun Club.

The Waverly Gun Club is located north of Waverly just off of Co. Rd. 9.

For more information, call Al Moy at (612) 889-4423, Ken Reinert at (612) 308-9259, or Russ Johnson at (763) 218-7376.

Metro waters home to big catfish
From the DNR

The walleye may well always win the piscatorial popularity contest among Minnesotans.

But for a growing number of people, the fish that gets them talking is one that can dwarf even the state record 17.5-pound walleye.

Sometimes wrongly spurned as a bottom-feeding rough fish, flathead and channel catfish are unique predators with taste buds all over their bodies.

They can provide an exciting and challenging angling experience.

And, with three large rivers flowing together – the Minnesota, Mississippi and St. Croix – the metro region is prime territory for chasing cats.

In fact, the state record flathead, a 70-pound behemoth, was hoisted from a Washington County stretch of the St. Croix River.

And the state record channel catfish, a 38-pounder, was pulled out of the Mississippi River in Hennepin County.

In the last five years, DNR fisheries biologist Joel Stiras has led a project to better understand the habits of catfish and those who pursue them.

He’s tagged around 2,000 fish in metro rivers, to get a better handle on their population and movement.

He’s solicited data from anglers, and monitored their online forums for information.

He sums up metro catfish resources in just a few words: “Very good, under-utilized and growing in popularity.”

That increase in popularity, Stiras said, is largely a function of size and cost.

“It’s an opportunity to catch a really big fish,” Stiras said. “And you can get started relatively cheaply.”

All you need is a medium to heavy rod and reel, heavy sinkers (one-half to 1 ounce), and some stout hooks.

Night crawlers work well for bait.

And anglers can fish from shore at places like Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis with Hidden Falls nearby across the river and Raspberry Island in downtown St. Paul.

Flatheads are best pursued at night.

Channel cats can be caught on a worm anytime.

Stiras described the Minnesota River as a veritable “flathead factory,” noting that Pool 2 of the Mississippi – located above the dam at Hastings and extending upstream to the Ford Dam – also yields good results.

While catfish are considered a tasty meal by some, many people fishing the rivers practice catch-and-release, partly out of misplaced fears about pollution and the safety of eating river fish.

According to fish consumption advisories published by the Minnesota Department of Health, however, it’s generally safe to eat one meal of catfish per week from any of the three large metro rivers.

Pregnant women and children may be advised to limit consumption to one meal per month, depending on fish size and where it was taken.

Check the Department of Health website for more information: www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/fish.

Rivers aren’t the only place to catch catfish.

The DNR has been stocking channel cats in select metro lakes for more than 15 years.

Ten lakes in the east metro area receive about 8,000 to 9,000 yearling catfish each year, and another 14 lakes all around the region receive adult catfish ranging from one to four pounds.

Many of the fish are put into smaller basins managed by the DNR’s Fishing in the Neighborhood (FiN) program, which works with local parks and others around the region to provide close-to-home angling opportunities for kids and families.

More information on FiN can be found at www.mndnr.gov/fishing/fin.

“Imagine some kid sitting on a fishing pier and hooking a six or seven pound catfish,” said Jim Levitt, who leads the east metro FiN program. “The kid has hooked a big fish, and hopefully we’ve hooked the kid on fishing.”

Mobile website lets Minnesotans explore the landscape in new detail
From the DNR

With detailed elevation data and mapping resources, a new mobile website called MnTOPO gives outdoor enthusiasts and scientists a chance to explore Minnesota’s landscape on desktop PCs, tablets, and smartphones, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced.

“This is a great way to use technology to illustrate the shape of earth’s surface and link people to the outdoors,” said Sean Vaughn, a DNR GIS hydrologist. “We can now give people a mobile way to cross Minnesota’s digital terrain to explore interesting places, understand water movement and navigate recreation lands.”

Under the Minnesota Elevation Mapping Project, high-accuracy elevation data was collected for the state using LiDAR technology.

The MnTOPO website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/maps/mntopo/index.html makes this data available so users can view topographic information as 3-D terrain and/or contours for all of Minnesota in a seamless panning environment.

“They can choose color aerial photography as a background base map, for example, and then drape contours over the imagery to expose terrain features hidden by vegetation in the imagery,” Vaughn said. “We created this with mobility in mind so that it can be easily accessed while in the field on just about any device using a modern web browser.”
MnTOPO has undergone extensive review since it was first released in late 2013 for testing.

It was developed with two primary audience applications in mind: visual terrain exploration and digital terrain data download.

People who use the application will find the ability to peruse Minnesota’s 3-D topographic landscape exciting and beneficial, Vaughn said.

Those interested in working directly with the data can download digital elevation models and LiDAR elevation data for their area of interest.

“We are only beginning to realize the value and usefulness that tools like this are providing to the public and scientists alike,” said Jason Moeckel, the inventory, monitoring and analysis section manager for the DNR Ecological and Water Resources Division. “The visual representation of accurate and modern topographic contours combined with aerial photography is extremely powerful for understanding how water moves across the landscape. We can apply that knowledge to help improve Minnesota’s water quality.”

MnTOPO’s mapping system shows landscape features and contours, but it is a general reference only and should not be used in place of a legal survey, or as a sole navigation aid.

This website was funded by the Clean Water Legacy Amendment.

A portion of the state’s sales tax is dedicated to the Clean Water Fund, which supports projects and products that help protect, preserve and improve the water quality of Minnesota.

Find out more about the DNR projects funded by the Legacy Amendment at www.mndnr.gov/legacy.

For more information:

Minnesota Elevation Mapping Project
www.mngeo.state.mn.us/committee/elevation/mn_elev_mapping.html

Minnesota LiDAR data
www.mngeo.state.mn.us/chouse/elevation/lidar.html

DNR’s nongame wildlife program urges wildlife-friendly erosion control
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ nongame wildlife program urges local governments and private construction companies to use wildlife-friendly erosion control materials.

Erosion-control materials are frequently used along roadways and recreational trails, and during new building construction.

Wildlife entanglement in, and death from, plastic netting and other man-made plastic materials has been documented in birds, fishes, mammals and reptiles.

Unfortunately, the use of these materials for erosion control continues, often without consideration for wildlife impacts.

This plastic netting can not only hurt terrestrial and aquatic wildlife populations, but can also snag in maintenance machinery, resulting in costly repairs and delays.

The good news is that erosion-control materials that are wildlife friendly exist and are readily available through many large companies (including Minnesota-based companies).

“We are not just worried about entangling wildlife in the immediate construction area,” said Christopher Smith, DNR central region nongame wildlife biologist. “Plastic erosion-control mesh is often shredded when mowed over during ditch and trail maintenance, and these small fragments are then blown by wind into nearby natural areas, including ponds, lakes, and rivers. Because the mesh is plastic it remains a hazard for months or even years, long after we have stopped thinking about the impact of a particular construction project on wildlife.”

Relatively simple changes like using 100 percent biodegradable products (not plastic or polymer photodegradable products) that have flexible nonfixed/nonwelded mesh, and/or rectangular-shaped mesh, make the material less likely to entangle wildlife.

People should use erosion mesh wisely; not all areas with disturbed ground necessitate its use.

Where possible, avoid using plastic photodegradable mesh unless it’s specifically required.

Photodegradable products need sunlight to degrade, and are often quickly buried or shaded out by vegetation, resulting in the product remaining on the land for years.

Erosion-control options that use natural fibers or straw are preferable.

To learn more about wildlife-friendly erosion control, check out the DNR’s nongame wildlife program’s flyer on the topic: http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/eco/nongame/wildlife-friendly-erosion-control.pdf.

Become an aquatic invasive species volunteer
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is offering free training to people interested in becoming a volunteer at public water accesses to help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

The training sessions are offered in each region of the state by watercraft inspection program staff from the DNR.

The class includes an introduction to AIS and the problems the species cause, information about the laws and how to work with the public.

“With more than 11,000 lakes at risk, the more people we can train the better equipped we’ll be to educate the public about AIS,” said Adam Doll, DNR acting watercraft inspections coordinator. “We encourage everyone who recreates on Minnesota lakes and rivers to become aware of the threat and help prevent the spread of aquatic invaders.”

By taking a few easy steps to clean boats and equipment and drain all water, anglers and boaters can ensure they’re not spreading invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil.

After completing a training session, volunteers will be able to help educate watercraft users at public water accesses about the risks of aquatic invasive species.

For a list of volunteer training locations visit: www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/ais_volunteer.html.

Additional training sessions can be scheduled for groups of 20 or more.

Contact area regional watercraft inspection supervisor at www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/ais/contacts.html.

Anglers catch all they need to know at new DNR Fish Minnesota site
From the DNR

Minnesota fishing regulations and other helpful information are now available on a new, easy-to-use Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.

The new Fish Minnesota site is part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s Unsession initiative and Plain Language Executive Order that directed state agencies to make information easier to access and easier to understand.

Anglers who visit www.mndnr.gov/fishmn will find rewritten and reorganized open water fishing regulations cast in a user-friendly question and answer format.

“I have been fishing in Minnesota for my entire life,” Dayton said. “But even the most experienced anglers couldn’t possibly know all of the state’s many fishing regulations, which are essential for responsible wildlife management. This new mobile site will help all Minnesotans more easily find and understand the state’s fishing rules and regulations.”

“Citizens win when information is easier to get and easier to understand,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Navigating the online fishing regulations has become a lot easier and now with a mobile device, you’ll always have what you need to know wherever you go.”

The agency has also made enhancements for those who access fishing information from desktop computers or mobile devices using the agency’s popular LakeFinder site.

The rewrite began with open water regulations in time for the Minnesota fishing opener.

Ice fishing and fish spearing regulations will soon follow.

New online fishing regulations are grouped by category in a format that links directly to answers.

Lake-specific fishing regulations appear by simply typing in the lake’s name.

The site also includes fishing terminology and locations of fishing piers, boat landings, family-friendly fishing spots and metro-area bait shops.

Fishing licenses can be bought online as well.

“Now everything you need is in the palm of your hand and easier to understand,” said Landwehr. “Buy a license. Look up a regulation. Get lake depth contours. Check fish consumption advice. It’s all at your fingertips.”

The Fish Minnesota site answers basic questions such as:

• Do I need a license?
• When can I fish?
• What can I catch?
• How can I fish?
• Where can I fish?
• What if I catch fish?

Al Stevens, who coordinates DNR fishing regulations, said the rise of special fishing regulations over the past two decades increased the number of fishing regulation booklet pages.

So did the growth in the number lakes and rivers infested with aquatic invasive species, which are listed in the fishing regulations book.

“The book got bigger as we fined-tuned our fishing regulations and responded to the rise of infested waters,” Stevens said. “Now with the online LakeFinder and Fish Minnesota we’re swinging back to making things easier to find and understand with quick navigation options.”

As Fish Minnesota debuts, the DNR is also seeking feedback on the site.

Comments can be directed to webmaster.dnr@state.mn.us.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: What is Minnesota’s tallest tree?

A: A white spruce (Picea glauca) in Koochiching County was last measured in November 2013 at 130 feet.

It was a national champion until 2011 when a taller tree was found in another state.

Access to the tree, growing on School Trust Fund land, is difficult.

Find more information about big trees in Minnesota at www.mndnr.gov/bigtree.

CO weekly report
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers.
CO Mies spent time on fish run.
CO Mies had a complaint on the Hwy 55 carp trap and some fish grates causing flooding.
CO Mies worked on a litter complaint.

• CO Mitch Sladek (Big Lake) worked fishermen on area lakes and rivers where enforcement action was taken for illegally taken or attempting to take fish in a closed season.
He assisted the Dayton Fire Department with boat operation training on the Mississippi River.
He checked a number of turkey hunters with some success.
He answered a number of ATV question in the Agriculture Zone.
He checked on a possible injured swan.
He followed up on a number of litter complaints with charges pending.
CO Sladek wants everyone to leave all baby animals alone the parents are close by and will not abandon them.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) was a guest speaker at Maple Lake High School for Career Day.
The spring crappie bite is sporadic this year with several good days followed by slow days.
Several animal calls were handled this week and a 30 year volunteer award was presented to a snowmobile instructor in Buffalo.

• CO Jen Mueller (Hutchinson) attended in-service training at Camp Ripley.
She issued a special beaver permit.
Mueller also addressed lake shore issues and answered questions regarding hunting within 500 feet of another person’s property.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson-East) followed up on illegal trapping complaints.
He also spent time talking to students at an all-day range and field day in Lester Prairie.
Oberg also completed instructing at Camp Ripley as part of officer in-service.