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Field reports: Lake Superior smelt are food, not bait

As the smelt run begins in the Duluth area, people who harvest the silvery forage fish are being told they can be used only for eating, not as bait. The message is being spread in an effort to limit the movement of VHS, a virus that has caused fi...

As the smelt run begins in the Duluth area, people who harvest the silvery forage fish are being told they can be used only for eating, not as bait.

The message is being spread in an effort to limit the movement of VHS, a virus that has caused fish kills elsewhere on the Great Lakes. The disease is not harmful to humans.

"We're saying go ahead and harvest, but do it for consumption only," said Mike Scott, a DNR conservation officer specializing in invasive species.

Existing law prevents the harvest of minnows or fish as bait from any Minnesota water designated as "infested waters." Lake Superior has been in that category for several years because of invasive species such as the spiny water flea, zebra mussels and others.

But until it was announced in January that VHS was found in a few fish from Lake Superior in a Cornell University study, the smelt-as-bait rule was virtually unenforced by conservation officers.

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On Tuesday, Wisconsin DNR officials announced that VHS had been found in lake herring in the Apostle Islands, further confirming the presence of VHS in Lake Superior.

The current rule about using no Lake Superior smelt as bait is part of the Minnesota fishing regulations synopsis, but it does require a close reading to interpret. And it remains confusing because the rule has existed in the past without being enforced. It was difficult to enforce the law because smelt also live in a few inland lakes across Northeastern Minnesota, and it's all but impossible to determine where the smelt originated, enforcement officers say.

The new effort to curb the use of smelt as bait also applies to the use of herring and ciscoes and any other Lake Superior fish used as bait, Scott said.

Some forest trails reopened

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has opened many, but not all, roads and trails temporarily closed to highway-licensed vehicles, commercial vehicles and off-highway vehicles (OHV) in Minnesota state forests this spring.

"Until the frost comes out of the roads and trails, the soil stays soft and may be susceptible to damage," explained Mary Straka, OHV program consultant for the DNR's Division of Parks and Trails. "Even if the vegetation is dry and burn restrictions are in effect, the roads and trails may not be firm yet. So we ask that riders check out our status reports frequently."

State forest roads and trails closure status reports are listed on the DNR Web site, www.mndnr.gov , which is updated by 2 p.m. every Thursday and more often when possible.

'Breakfast with the Bears' is back

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The American Bear Association has announced the return of a popular activity -- having breakfast with wild black bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary near Orr. The brunch will be offered twice a month through the summer. Visitors of all ages will be able to watch bears from the comfort and safety of the viewing platform.

"We are bringing the program back on a trial run for this summer only to see what kind of interest it receives," said American Bear Association president Dennis Udovich.

The sanctuary is now accepting reservations for the "Breakfast with the Bears" online on their events page at www.americanbear.org .

Related Topics: FISHINGHUNTING
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