Nothing compels a Minnesota fisherman to speak up quicker than a question about bag limits. During last year's review did you, your next-door neighbor and your cousin in Dubuque who fishes here once a year throw in your two cents on the subject? Of course.
Today, with the bag limit debate having quieted down, we have a new question to ponder: Should Minnesota lakes be classified under a three-tier system, with each tier having its own set of regulations?
The idea was presented in January at the Fishing Roundtable, an annual gathering of people concerned with Minnesota fishing, by Paul Radomski, a DNR fisheries researcher in Brainerd.
More recently Radomski has asked: "What do our fishing regulations look like now? What will they look like in 10 to 20 years given no policy changes in implementation? Will fishing be better, worse or the same? What are the alternatives? How effective are our current regulations? How much complexity in the fishing rule book will be tolerated by anglers? How effective can length-based regulations be? What is compliance today in percentage of total harvest among all anglers? Given projections of human population increases in Minnesota (which might be grossly underestimated), what will be necessary to improve our fishing besides stocking more young fish?"
Paul Radomski, a DNR fisheries research biologist in Brainerd, would like to see a new management plan applied to Minnesota lakes. (Dispatch Photo by Vince Meyer)
Just a few questions to toss out next time you and the boys gather for a beer.
Radomski calls the three-tier system the "Olympian Plan" because it would classify Minnesota lakes (with some exceptions) as either gold, silver or bronze. Bag limits, length limits, harvest slots and the like would vary depending on which class a lake is placed.
"I don't see this as a radical change from what we're already doing," Radomski said. "If anything it would be simpler. You would only have to remember three sets of regulations instead of what we have now -- 130 length-based regulations, including seven different length limits for bass."
Radomski borrowed the Olympian Plan from similar plans used on Western trout streams and in Wisconsin, where he says it's helped improve fishing. He merged his ideas with a similar plan put forth by the Minnesota Smallmouth Bass Alliance, whose proposed system classifies waters as A, B or C instead of gold, silver and bronze.
"The ideas aren't new," Radomski said, "but this would be the first time they would be applied to lakes."
If the plan would help simplify regulations it also would give the DNR more flexibility to help meet anglers' demands.
"We have people who just want to catch fish and take them home and eat them," Radomski said. "Then we have those who fish for fun, to catch fish, especially big fish. The question becomes: can we do a better job meeting anglers' needs than what we're doing now?"
The top fisheries people at DNR headquarters in St. Paul are neutral to the plan, Radomski said.
"(Fisheries Chief) Ron Payer said go ahead and talk about it but that there's a lot on the plate right now and they won't pursue it. He said it has some good points and some shortcomings. He said to float the idea and if it gains any grass roots support that might be incentive to pursue it."
No matter how much or how little momentum the Olympian Plan gains in the coming months, Radomski said one thing is certain: fishing in Minnesota will continue to decline without significant changes to regulations.
"As our population grows sacrifices will have to be made. Everybody says, 'I just want to take a few fish home to eat.' But add up the number of anglers and compare it to the number of fish and if everybody takes home even close to their limit we'll be out of fish before long. People say, 'But I rarely catch my limit.' The reason they rarely catch their limit is because they're sharing a limited resource with 2.5 million anglers.
"If you keep that fish than somebody else can't catch it. People have a hard time accepting that. But there's just not enough to go around. People don't want to hear that or believe it."
Mille Lacs provides an example of what the Olympian Plan might produce. Walleye catch rates on the big lake are four times higher than elsewhere in Minnesota because the harvest slot is so tight that most fish are recycled. Rainy Lake is another example where severe harvest restrictions have improved fishing.
Think of those two lakes as examples of what gold-medal waters could become. If even 10 percent of Minnesota's lakes -- the approximate number that would be classified as gold -- offered similar fishing would anglers say that's a good thing?
You, the angler, will decide. Though hopeful, Radomski admits the plan's prospects for acceptance are "remote."
"I'm hearing a lot about how it goes against our tradition of bringing home some fish to eat. Some people just don't like any rule changes, as you could see from the bag limit review. Whenever the public is split on an issue that doesn't bode well (for the DNR). We have to regulate by consensus, to a degree."
Resort owners would be another stumbling block because they wouldn't want their lake to be classified as bronze. That's why Radomski said he's considering changing the name from the Olympian Plan to the A-B-C plan.
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