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2017 DNR Roundtable: Keeping what we have

The Minnesota fishing landscape is changing as increased angling pressure forcing the hand to reduce bag limits. (Gary Korsgaden/For the Enterprise)

Minnesota's fishing scene is changing.

Anglers are much better doing what they love to do, and that's catch fish.

"There seems to be momentum out there for reduced bag limits," says Brad Parsons, central region fisheries manager.

Parsons made this statement as one of several speakers at the annual DNR Roundtable conference, held Jan. 6 at a Bloomington hotel. Four hundred stakeholders attended the event highlighted with conversations about fishing culture today and how it's driven by technology, improvements in equipment and real-time fishing information from social media conduits, such Facebook and cell phones.

Ice fishermen are more mobile today than 10 years ago and easily able to converge on a hot fishing bite. Add a concern about the number of wheel houses — ice fishing's newest craze, equipped with bunks, lounging and cooking areas — comfortably intensifies fishing pressure potentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Winter harvest today is up, estimated to be 50 percent of the overall take of walleyes in a whole year, compared to just 11 percent a decade ago.

A state's fishing resource is a shared responsibility by the DNR and the public. Parsons says the discussion about bag limit changes is just beginning. In the 18-member, citizens walleye work group, the common thread is walleye fishing is good in Minnesota, and there's a need to work on keeping what we have and making it better.

How do do we do it effectively and acceptable for the angling public?

My roundtable presentation included a discussion on protective slot limits — protecting walleyes in a particular size range to improve number of fish and natural reproduction.

Walleye stocking will raise the number of walleyes in a lake. Today's stocking is at a rate of almost twice the 1990 level.

Data shows stocking doesn't move the needle in a positive direction in all lakes. Habitat is necessary for success and social pressure in certain situations force stocking anyway.

At the end of my presentation regarding a recommendation for a four-fish bag limit, my opinion is a three-fish limit would be better.

"Three walleye bag limit? Too bold," says Fishery Chief Don Pereira.

Parsons feels a four-walleye bag limit does not have the biological impact compared to three and it would be a step in the right direction.

An attempt to reduce the walleye limit 10 years ago failed.

Dave Thompson, representing the citizen group on panfish, agrees it is time to reduce the bag limits.

Biologists are puzzled about a statewide decline in perch populations and the average size of pan fish is decreasing.

Northern pike discussions centered on major changes in fishing regulations on the horizon.

The bass group is looking at tournament weigh-in procedures and how to better protect the resource.

The back porch provided a forum for attendees to share their opinions on the day's topics. A lively discussion ensued on the harvest of smallmouth bass on Mille Lacs, emphasizing protecting the resource and whether to allow keeping a few or release all.

Ending the evening, guests shared parting thoughts on the importance of protecting lake habitats for the betterment of the fishing resource.

2017 Roundtable: It's about keeping what we have and in the process making it better in an ever changing Minnesota landscape under the watchful eye of an engaged public.