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Legislation would lift spearing ban on Cass Lake

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A bill that could lift the ban on spearing fish on Cass Lake is headed to the Minnesota Senate floor, along with measures to provide training on invasive species to dock installers and to realign natural resources agencies.

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All are bills authored by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. Two will be included in an omnibus environment and natural resources bill, the realignment bill will be in another omnibus bill.

The amended Senate version gives an opportunity for discussion between supporters of spearing northern on Cass Lake and of members of Muskies Inc. who oppose it, Olson said this week in a telephone interview.

"There has been a very contentious issue through the years about muskie supporters versus spearing supporters," Olson said.

The bill as originally introduced calls for the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources to amend Minnesota rules "to allow a person to take fish by spearing on Cass Lake." There is a "good cause exemption" the bill cites that the commissioner can use in lifting the ban on spearing.

Olson's bill was introduced that way but was amended in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, she said, with the help of its chairman, Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley.

"Sen. Chaudhary is trying to work with the two groups to find a compromise, at try as much as possible for one," Olson said. "He's giving it his best shot."

Chaudhary "has some language in the bill that will give us something to talk about," she said.

Spearers have long enjoyed taking northerns out of Cass Lake and insist that it is not difficult to identify species in the icy winter water. Members of Muskies Inc., however, have helped stock muskies in northern lakes and are concerned that too many muskie might be taken by spearers by accident, and want the spearing ban to continue.

Rep. John Person, DFL-Bemidji, is carrying the bill in the House, which is the original bill to lift the ban. It is co-sponsored by Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker.

"It's in the House bill just as introduced," Olson said. "Rep. Persell's bill would basically allow the spearing again on Cass Lake, so the Senate language is a little bit different to give an opportunity for some discussion in conference committee."

Another Olson provision affects people or firms who install docks each spring in multiple lakes. It would require training for invasive species, provided a training program is within 50 miles of the dock installer and that training cost no more than $10.

"This was brought to me by a task force that was formed in the Pequot Lakes-Breezy Point-Brainerd area that was designed to help educate commercial dock installers - dock and boat lift installers - about invasive species," Olson said.

The task force worked on the issue for several years on a voluntary basis to 'try to get that information out there," she said. "Quite a few people and dock installers took advantage of it but others didn't."

Preventing the spread of invasive species to other Minnesota lakes is a legislative priority with some water protection groups, she said, "to try to make sure that dock installers and boatlift installers all have this information."

The bill states "that where there is an educational program available within a reasonable proximity and a cost of no more than $10," she said. "It only applies to installers that move their equipment between multiple lakes,"

The bill calls for one hour of training in the previous 12 months, and training must be within 50 miles of the person or his place of business at a cost of no more than $10.

"I think that's it's important that they know how to recognize invasive species and what to do to prevent the spread of that type of thing," Olson said.

The person conducting the training must be approved for invasive species training by a state agency, a political subdivision of the state or a lake or river association, the bill states. A certificate would be issued to installers attending the training.

The third measure in another omnibus bill is Olson's push to realign natural resources agencies, such as the DNR, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, and such.

"It passed through the Rules Committee, so we are going to have the vote on that shortly," Olson said.

The bill establishes a large environment and natural resources structure committee to advise the Legislature on an organization for state agencies and local governments administering policies. It is to recommend a new structure that is streamlined and allows citizens to easily obtain permits and conduct business without having to go through multiple agencies.

"I'm feeling pretty optimistic, considering its last stop was in Rules and the Republican minority leader, Sen. David Senjem, (R-Rochester), congratulated me on my bill," the Bemidji Democrat said. "He said was something we really needed to get done."

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, has signaled his support for the bill, she said. "I feel fairly optimistic that we will have a good Senate position on it. I don't know what the House is going to think about that."

That measure will be in Sen. Ellen Anderson's, DFL-St. Paul, omnibus bill. She chairs the Senate Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division.

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