The Izaak Walton League of Minnesota has filed a petition with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources asking the agency to develop plans to protect and regulate the harvest of several native fish species currently classified as “rough fish.” The appeal asks the DNR to protect the species from overfishing because current regulations mean many species have no fish kill limits.
“The Minnesota DNR needs to amend its rules … related to possession limits, the closed season and the types of gear allowed so that native fish populations are sustainable in perpetuity,” says the request
Native roughfish species that do not currently have significant protection include suckers, mooneye and goldeneye, freshwater drum, bowfin, clubhead, and snapper. Most of these species are found in the St. Croix and its tributaries, which is a popular destination
Groups advocating for the protection of these fish say their current lax management is based on no science and is leaving important species vulnerable. In particular, with the rise of bowfishing, harvests of raw fish have increased rapidly in the last decade.
In 2009, Minnesota legalized the use of lights for bowfishing at night, resulting in higher harvests. In 2011, it opened an early bowfishing season that allows hunters to target the fish during their vulnerable spawning season. Since then, bowfishing has become especially popular along parts of the St. Croix.
Three years ago, the DNR documented a bowfishing tournament on the Mississippi River that resulted in the harvest of at least 35,000 pounds of fish in a single night, three-quarters of which were native species. Dead fish were “dumped” on farm fields as fertilizer.
The petition notes that many of the fish species are long-lived, between 40 and 100 years. This means that harvesting can have a significant impact on their population, as the fish take a long time to reach maturity and reproduce. In addition, many of the species play important roles in aquatic ecosystems, such as helping to reproduce native mussels and transporting nutrients. They are also food for many animals.
“Native fish are critical to a sustainable aquatic ecosystem,” according to the petition. “Many are forage for hunting fish, birds and mammals, and provide many other ecosystem services.”
Minnesota’s lax regulations also lead to confusing disparities in how some fish species are managed in St. Croix and elsewhere. Several species considered “rough fish” in Minnesota are designated as threatened or endangered in Wisconsin. That means the goldeneye, blue snapper and river horse, which Wisconsin carefully protects, are open to almost unlimited harvest by Minnesota.
Last spring, the Minnesota Legislature nearly passed a bill that would have required the DNR to do much of the management of the new petition. Despite being incorporated into the omnibus environmental bills, the session ended without approval of this legislation.
The petition was also signed by environmental groups such as the Friends of the Mississippi River, Clean Up the River Environment and the Minnesota Conservation Federation. It was filed under a state law that allows such requests and gives the DNR 60 days to respond.