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Sea Grant's bait shop? University of Minnesota program researches ways to grow more golden shiners

Fish researchers hoping to produce a golden shiner for walleye bait in just one year instead of two.

Golden shiner
A golden shiner in a bait bag. Minnesota Sea Grant researchers are trying to grow a bait-size golden shiner, about 2-3 inches long, in just one year rather than the usual two, to alleviate a shortage of the popular and expensive walleye bait.
Contributed / Don Schreiner, Minnesota Sea Grant
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DULUTH — The University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program is investigating new ways to grow more golden shiners, a popular but often hard-to-find and expensive bait minnow used by walleye anglers.

In Minnesota, golden shiners usually require two years to grow to maturity in the wild. Minnesota’s long, cold winters make raising them commercially in natural ponds challenging and expensive. Researchers are hoping to get a golden shiner to grow to walleye bait size, about 2-3 inches long, in just one year using both indoor and outdoor facilities.

“There is pressure from anglers, bait dealers and legislators to import golden shiners from other states," although that’s prohibited by Minnesota law due to disease concerns, said Don Schreiner, Minnesota Sea Grant fisheries specialist.

That's why Sea Grant, based in Duluth, stepped in to alleviate the shortage with homegrown shiners. The project could lead to more business opportunities for bait dealers as well as more bait for anglers. The 2018 United States Department of Agriculture Aquaculture Census reported that golden shiners were the most valuable baitfish produced in the U.S. with $16.4 million in total sales and more than 3.9 million pounds sold.

Sea Grant has multiple plans to get more golden shiners quicker, including using recirculating indoor tanks and another plan combining hydroponics, growing plants without soil, in conjunction with aquaponics, growing the little fish. Another project will start fish indoors and then move them to outdoor ponds in spring when they are so-called sac fry, still attached to their yolk sacks.

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The project is funded by a three-year, $188,000 grant from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

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John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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