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Ask a conserervation officer: Lake Superior smelt can't be used as bait on inland waters

Q: May I use smelt as bait on Lake Superior and Minnesota’s inland lakes?

A: In past years, many anglers would net and save smelt in the spring in order to use them as bait in later months. Due to the advent of our current aquatic invasive species (AIS) threats in Lake Superior, some laws have been changed that limit how and where these fish can be later used as bait.

Cisco (herring) and smelt originating from Lake Superior may only be saved and used as fresh or frozen bait in Lake Superior or its tributaries below the posted boundary. In order to limit the spread of AIS, and very specifically to limit the threat of spreading viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), it is illegal to use either of these fish from Lake Superior as bait in any other inland water.

In some situations, these cisco and smelt may be treated to inactivate the virus in order to use them as bait in other waters, but only under special permit from the DNR and with strict labeling requirements. Cisco and smelt obtained from another source or location must bear a label identifying the permit holder and treatment process, and the label must be retained by the angler while using them as bait in inland waters. Contact your local Fisheries Office for more information on this process.

Matthew S. Miller is a Minnesota Conservation Officer with the Lake Superior Marine Unit.

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