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Reducing Bag Limits:
Who wants it? Who needs it?

by Vern Wagner

Is the current six fish bag limit a problem? It is time to ask if bag limits really need to be changed.

And what are the rationales for this? With the current slot and bag limit restrictions on many of our lakes it is almost impossible to catch or harvest, even just one or two fish. Will limiting us from catching two less fish; have any redeeming biological effects? Or is this just an opportunity to put feathers in a hat? If we went from a six to four fish limit I suppose that visitors coming to Minnesota would more easily claim that they “Got their limit” but does this warrant the change? I assume one rationale for reducing the bag limit is the "Social Conservation Ethic", but if you want to promote Conservation Ethics, put a fish pole or shotgun in the hands of a young person. True conservationism in Minnesota comes from being afield, not from reading research papers or changing dates and adjusting limit sizes.

On the other hand the DNR’s Budget Oversight Committee has stated that:
Social trends show declining interest in fishing, hunting and other nature type activities. An example is in the 1970s, 40 percent of Minnesotans age 16 and over went fishing; today that number is at only 29 percent.

Problem: If these trends keep at their current levels, there is a chance that by 2015 there will be 100,000 fewer anglers which will result in fewer licenses being sold and in turn may result in lost of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds.
(Citizen Oversight Report on Game & Fish Fund Expenditures FY 2006)

So, the questions that need to be asked, is how does reducing bag limits, changing opener dates and reduced license fees address our actual problems?

Perception is big in politics, “sound bites” get more media and radio talk show press then complicated problems and solutions. We need to ask if lowering the price, limiting the bag, or changing the dates really has any scientific or biological basis for better fish management. Personally I’d be willing to pay more each year for a Fishing Conservation License that would allow me to practice catch and release year round.

We need to find more ways to keep young people interested in our hunting and fishing traditions. Recently a national kids fishing program made this announcement: Due to changing corporate priorities and market conditions, our key partners have chosen to devote their resources elsewhere and our efforts to secure new alliances have been unsuccessful. Unfortunately this seems to be the future for fishing if our numbers continue to decline.

Loss of aquatic habitat has much more to do with sustainable fish populations, then fishing limits might. While the hook and bullet groups want to argue about who is getting more of the hunting/fishing license fee dollars, the elephant in the living room is public access to lands and waters.

Minnesota has generally three types of lakes, classified by the amount of habitat in them and then reclassified by size. A one size fits all approach may not address the aquatic diversity present.

Another issue that may come up again in 2008 is lead fishing tackle. And while the focus seems to be on its toxicity, our many fish consumption advisories come from mercury pollution, not from ˝ oz spinnerbaits stuck in trees. For the last few years, I’ve been switching over to non-lead tackle, and find that it is actually better made and I seem to catch more fish with it. Should lead tackle be banned, or should we do a better job selling the advantages of the other materials?

It is good that we are looking at surrounding States and asking if we are missing the boat with some of our fishing programs. Maybe we do need a public debate on these issues? However declaring new rules by legislative edict can be a slippery slope. I hope as anglers, our voices are heard and that our fishing and hunting regulations aren't just window dressings in a legislative conference room. .

 Vern Wagner