About Fishing: An under-the-hood look at Minnesota's 2018 pike regulations

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I have kept up with the pike regulations development debate.

Close to home, some lakes in Park Rapids area are seemingly overrun with small, hammer-handled pike, 18 to 24 inches in length.

The DNR first started talking about pike issues, knowing the problems of too many pike was not the case in all lakes. For example, good-sized structure exists in lakes found in the northeast portion of the state. Pike that were lower in abundance grew faster, as found in some south waters. A one-size-fits-all regulation would not work in all lakes.

The University of Minnesota helped the DNR by conducting surveys of anglers and spear fisherman as to their preferences and opinions.These surveys were critical to determining what size anglers and spear fisherman found favorable and were likely to harvest.

Further review of potential regulations came through a number of venues:

• DNR Northern Pike Technical Committee

• Northern pike/muskellunge workgroup

• Statewide Area Fisheries Supervisor conference

• 2015 Fisheries Roundtable

• Senate Subcommittee on Fish and Wildlife

• Internal DNR

• DNR website (mndnr.gov/pike)

• 11 public meetings statewide

The DNR received over 700 comments from the public, mainly through the DNR website and 11 informational meetings held around the state. These comments were used to revise boundaries, fine-tune spearing regulations and refine educational efforts about the zones, map, statewide possession limits and lakes that still have special regulations.

Gill net surveys were used. Results showed lakes with a 10 pike per gill net or more slowed the growth rate. Once reaching the point of a desirable harvest size, removing them from the lake played an important role in keeping smaller pike in check. The goal: Reduce numbers of small pike, improve the numbers of medium and large pike.

The DNR worked closely with the spearing community to address some of their concerns. One of the three pike management zones, north-central spear fisherman are allowed to take one pike in the protected length range and one fish larger than the protected size range.

I polled several neighboring state fishery biologists. Here is what they had to say: "Good for the Minnesota DNR." The evidence is overwhelming that large, apex predators, like northern pike and musky, are beneficial for the lake, as a whole. Blanket regulations work in most cases. Reviewing and adjusting in places they don't work is good management.

Fish naturally are good at adapting and benefiting the lake's ecosystem. Biologists listen to what science tells them about how fish adjust populations naturally and try to follow suit. Several lakes in the past had experimental "trophy pike" regulations. Data showed size and quality increased until it magically stopped. First they thought it was the lake's ecosystem. Instead, as size and quality increased, anglers would not release the five- to seven-pound pike, removing their benefit from the lake's ecosystem.

Success of the northern pike regulations hinges on public acceptance and compliance. Will fisherman harvest more pike in the zones allowed? Natural systems are complex with a number of uncontrollable variables.There will be failures among the thousands of lakes Minnesota DNR manages, some of them completely beyond the manager's control.

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water because a lake you love is "different than it used to be," or at least different than you remember it.

Anglers should become familiar to the zone they frequently fish and the size and number of pike allowed. Review the printed 2018 fishing guide for specific regulations in each zone.