Gary Barnard retired in 2019 as the Department of Natural Resources Area Fisheries Supervisor in Bemidji, ending a 43-year career with the Department of Natural Resources. In this interview, he says he disagrees with a legislative proposal to reduce the walleye limit from six to four, and says many other DNR fishing professionals also oppose it. . The office of DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen, however, supports the idea.
Q Lost in the discussion of reducing the statewide walleye limit from six to four is that the fishery is generally very good in Minnesota and has been for several years.
A I am okay. I don’t know, actually, what the problem we’re trying to address with the proposal to reduce the walleye limit. With walleye, for example, if a reduced abundance is detected in a given lake, or perhaps smaller fish, a rational discussion ensues on how to resolve the issue. Then a management plan is developed using the tools available to us, including stockpiling or perhaps imposing a slot limit or even a reduction in limit. None of this happened because no walleye “problem” was identified statewide.
Q One argument for reducing the walleye limit from six to four is that most of the 10 largest naturally spawning walleye lakes are already at four walleye. Outliers among these include Mille Lacs, with its limit of one walleye, as well as Winnie and Cass, which have limits of six walleyes. If four is good for most of these lakes, why not the smaller walleye lakes too?
A It is not the four walleye limits that are the primary management factors on these lakes, but the time slots or size restrictions. They are far more important than catch limits, in part because they affect anglers’ harvest with the first or second fish caught. Take Upper Red, for example. The walleye limit is four, but only one walleye is allowed over 17 inches. The first walleye will therefore be legal regardless of its size. But walleye caught later could either be kept or returned to the lake depending on their size. This is the main management tool, not the bag limit.
Q These slots, or size restrictions, on certain lakes appear to be steadily changing.
A On our larger lakes, MNR conducts annual walleye surveys that show changes that may be occurring in the abundance, size and/or spawning stock of walleye. If it is determined that a management change is necessary, it is more likely to be the location than the boundary. It is also important to note that angler harvesting is one of the management techniques that a fisheries manager has in their toolbox. Sometimes, in fact, a higher harvest is needed to trigger a desired response from a lake’s walleye population.
Q When it comes to slots, DNR fisheries managers seem to have changed their thinking over the years, moving from large protected slots – say 17 to 26 inches, which were more widely used in previous years than they were are today – to “one on” regulations, such as those currently on Upper Red and Leech.
A There has been progress. In evaluating these larger niches over the years, we have found that they sometimes have unintended consequences. By limiting the harvest with the larger protected slots, we have started piling up big fish in some of our lakes. This accumulation of biomass, in turn, affected the recruitment of young fish into a lake’s walleye population. That’s why slots, for example, on Leech and Winnie have been adjusted, albeit in different ways. In 2019, the Leech protected slot of 20-26 inches was eliminated and replaced with “one over” 20 inches – while the four limit remained the same. On Winnie, the protected slot until 2015 was 17-26 inches. Now it’s 18 to 23 inches. But Winnie’s limit was also unchanged, at six. The intent of these two regulatory adjustments was to increase harvest, partly because the walleye population could sustain it, but also because, again, harvesting can help maintain and even grow a population. of walleye by cycling fish through the system and encouraging the recruitment of young fish. Slot machines can serve positive payouts, but they can also suppress recruitment. So their occasional adjustments.
Q But the state’s “second-tier” golden lakes, unlike the “Big 10,” aren’t inspected annually. They therefore do not benefit from real-time information like the Great Lakes.
A That’s true, but I want to stress again that because some of our larger lakes are governed by four walleye limits, it’s a stretch, biologically, to say that the four fish limit should be applied to the few 1,000 other small walleye lakes. . Regarding the lack of annual surveys of small walleye lakes and the alleged problems that walleye may encounter as a result, it is wrong to suggest that these lakes are overfished by anglers or threatened with another way and MNR fisheries managers don’t know about it because the lakes aren’t inspected every year. Smaller walleye lakes are inspected approximately every five years. If there is a problem that is detected and if it is related to harvesting, local fisheries managers will propose action to resolve the problem in that lake. This in no way means that a statewide limit of four walleye should be applied to all of our lakes. When you do this, you take a tool out of a manager’s toolbox, namely angling, which can be used to solve a problem.
Q Proponents of the lower limit for walleye argue, accurately, that the increased use of more sophisticated electronic devices, as well as the proliferation of invasive species which in some cases appear to be reducing walleye production, call for a reduction in the angling limit – if not to tackle current problems, then “act proactively” to avoid problems down the line.
A Let’s look at the idea of a lake’s reduced walleye production due to invasive species. If this happens to a lake, overexploitation has not caused the problem, so reducing harvest is not going to solve it. Similarly, if the size of walleye in a lake is a problem, reducing the limit will not solve it. Slotting or “over the top” regulations would be much more effective in improving the size structure. Additionally, throughout Minnesota, there are too many types of walleye lakes, such as natural spawning, fingerlings, or fingerlings, and too many management strategies to apply a single walleye fishing approach. If a manager of lac sees a problem, it’s up to him to fix it, and it can be done better if all options are available.
Q If reducing walleye limits is such a bad idea, why is the MNR commissioner’s office supporting it?
A Many DNR professionals I’ve spoken to don’t see the need for it. From what I understand, some angler groups wanted the change, and those groups were working with the MNR Fisheries Technical Committee on the idea of lowering the limits. But the technical committee basically didn’t see the need for statewide change. The way species technical committees generally work is that they identify a problem, as they did with northern pike and bluegill, for example, and then develop management strategies to address the problem. In this case, a statewide walleye problem was not identified, so there was no need for a solution. Obtaining no satisfaction from the technical committee, the groups then approached their legislators and the office of the commissioner to try to obtain the reduction of the limit for walleye. What frustrates me is that throughout my career and the careers of other MNR fisheries managers and biologists, this is what we do: manage walleye lakes. Storage. Investigations. Ratings. Develop management plans that incorporate actions to address identified issues. This is how we operate. That’s what fishermen’s license fees support. Putting all that aside and saying we’re going to put four bags of walleye on every walleye lake in the state doesn’t make sense.