More blame is bandied in Fish Lake disputeA member of the county watchdog group We Are Watching blasted St. Louis County Commissioner Dennis Fink on Tuesday for his role in the Fish Lake walleye regulation saga.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
A member of the county watchdog group We Are Watching blasted St. Louis County Commissioner Dennis Fink on Tuesday for his role in the Fish Lake walleye regulation saga.
Kevin Skwira-Brown of Duluth said Fink should come clean on his part in the failed effort to push new walleye fishing regulations on the lake where Fink owns property.
“Commissioner Fink has yet to take responsibility for setting things into motion,’’ Skwira-Brown said during a scheduled public comment period during a regular County Board meeting.
Skwira-Brown also said Fink may have misrepresented the walleye regulation request as an official county position because Fink is chairman of the County Board’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
There was no discussion of Skwira-Brown’s comments and Fink did not respond publicly. But he later told the News Tribune that the accusations are baseless. Fink said he was trying to push an issue that the DNR appeared to be ducking that might help improve the average size of fish caught on the lake.
“I still believe the majority of people who were involved in this still favor some sort of regulation to improve fishing up there,’’ Fink said. “Wherever these special regulations are in place, people are invariably happy with the results.’’
In April, Fink asked state Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, to consider legislation forcing the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to enact new rules for the popular lake just north of Duluth.
“Based on the information provided to me, 28 of 30 people who were at a (March DNR meeting on the walleye issue) were in favor of special regulations, and that the DNR said it would take five years to do a study to do that … and that’s why I got involved,’’ Fink said. “I assumed that it would be reasonable to send a letter to Sen. Chaudhary, as chairman of the Natural Resource Committee, so he could meet with the DNR and find out why it was going to take so long to do something.’’
Chaudhary, who also owns property on the lake, later asked state Rep. Dave Dill of Crane Lake to include the proposal at the last minutes of the legislative session in an omnibus fish and Game bill.
The bill passed with the provision included, but was later vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in part because of the Fish Lake issue. The governor said the Legislature should not delve into resource management against the will of the state agency charged with natural resource protection. Critics also noted there was no public meeting or hearing into the changes.
But Fink said any subversion of the normal legislative process is not his fault.
“Why didn’t they hold a hearing on this bill? Why didn’t it pass as separate legislation? I can’t answer that. I don’t know why,’’ Fink said. “But I did exactly what county commissioners are supposed to do. I was asked to help move something by some people and I did it … I used the best information that was available to me. I never for a moment believed it would move ahead as quickly as it did.’’
Fink said he really wouldn’t have benefited from the legislation because “I’m not much of a fisherman… I’ve kept my boat up there for four years and I don’t think I’ve caught four fish.’’
Many Fish Lake residents and anglers criticized the provision, and Chaudhary eventually apologized, saying he had received incorrect information about public support for special regulations.
The issue has spurred Republicans at the Capitol to call for an ethics investigation.