Last-minute walleye legislation surprises Minnesota DNRIt appears legislators in St. Paul want a say in managing the walleye fishery on Fish Lake north of Duluth.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
It appears legislators in St. Paul want a say in managing the walleye fishery on Fish Lake north of Duluth.
Over the recommendations of fisheries officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, legislators have decided that Fish Lake will have special walleye regulations in place by next spring.
The Minnesota Legislature, in its Omnibus Game and Fish Bill passed on Saturday, included a provision calling for special regulations on the lake. The measure apparently was included at the last minute when Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, asked Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, to add an amendment to the House Omnibus Game and Fish Bill.
Chaudhary is chair of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Dill is chairman of the Game, Fish and Forestry Division of the House Environment Policy and Oversight Committee.
Chaudhary owns a cabin on Fish Lake and disclosed that to members of the House-Senate conference committee who worked out the bill’s final language, he said. He did not consider his actions a conflict of interest.
“It’s only a conflict of interest if I’m substantially benefited by something over and above anyone else,” Chaudhary said.
Local Department of Natural Resources fisheries officials were not aware the Legislature was considering the Fish Lake measure.
“This was pretty much a surprise to us,” said Deserae Hendrickson, DNR area fisheries supervisor. “We were not informed that anyone was proposing that.”
In recent years, the DNR has done population modeling and angler surveys on Fish Lake. The agency presented that information at an informational meeting at Fredenberg Town Hall in late March.
Hendrickson said the DNR did not recommend changing walleye regulations on Fish Lake.
“In order to achieve any significant increase in the number of larger fish — over 20 inches — we would essentially have to give up 30 to 40 percent of the harvest, which we consider a pretty big sacrifice for anglers who like to harvest fish,” she said.
That would require a regulation requiring anglers to throw back all walleyes from 14 or 15 inches to 20 inches long, a so-called protected slot limit, Hendrickson said.
But some who attended the March meeting approached St. Louis County Commissioner Dennis Fink about pushing for a slot limit on Fish Lake in hopes of increasing the average size of walleyes. Fink, who was not at the meeting, said several who attended had asked the DNR if a slot limit could be implemented on the lake and told him that the DNR had responded it would be “about five years” before they could do so.
The DNR’s Hendrickson said no timeline ever had been mentioned.
“At no time did we say we were proposing to put a regulation on,” she said. “It was an informational meeting about modeling results for the Fish Lake (walleye) population.”
Fink sent a letter to Sen. Chaudhary suggesting that local residents would like to see special regulations on the lake “a little quicker than five years.”
Chaudhary, in the past, had sought and received information on Fish Lake’s walleye population, he said. The DNR’s Hendrickson said she had provided information on the Fish Lake walleye fishery to Fink as well.
Chaudhary, in a phone interview on Monday, said he didn’t feel comfortable in getting involved with legislation on the matter because he had a cabin on the lake. He said he suggested that local residents get in touch with their legislators.
But Dill, in a telephone interview Monday, said he had not heard about the matter until Chaudhary approached him during the final days of the Legislature.
“He (Chaudhary) came to me when I was on the House floor presenting the (Game and Fish) bill,” Dill said. “He came to my desk and gave me the amendment and a letter from Dennis Fink, and I put it on my bill … I did it as a courtesy to him.”
Chaudhary said he gave Dill only the letter from Fink.
The DNR now must come up with some special walleye regulation for Fish Lake.
“I’m not sure what we will do,” Hendrickson said. “We have to determine what anglers as a whole would be satisfied with, how much harvest they’re willing to give up.”
She isn’t sure whether the DNR will hold public meetings to gather input.
“As a department, we’re not real excited about having management legislated,” she said. “What this does is bypass the public input process. That’s a concern. There’s a reason why we have that process. We’re trying to balance the benefits to all anglers, not just a few.”