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Entries in Minnesota (36)

Tuesday
May192015

Public Outcry Forces Minnesota to Delay Invasive Species Training Program

Following public outcry from resort owners, anglers and boaters, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will postpone an invasive species training and trailer decal program that was set to go into effect July 1.

In the state legislature, a House committee voted to cancel the law, while a Senate panel has proposed a compromise that would delay implementation and remove charges for the class and decals. As the law was originally enacted, “lake service providers” are required to pay $50 for a three-year permit.

Passed in 2012, the law also requires boaters and others who tow boats and water-related equipment to take classes about how to avoid transporting aquatic invasive species, such as zebra mussels and milfoil, form one water body to another and then buy decals for their trailers to confirm that they have taken the class (usually online).

The DNR supports the education that would be provided under this law, but recognizes there are some concerns with the way the law is currently written,” the agency said. “For example, people transporting boats on trailers through Minnesota to another destination are required to take the course and display a decal even if they don’t put their boat in Minnesota waters.”

DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier added, “With the legislative interest in this educational program and ongoing discussions about possible changes, we are postponing the launch until we see if the legislature acts this session to modify the program.”

State Sen. Tom Saxhaug said, “Education is critical to this whole aquatic invasive species idea. We are not trying to stop tourism in the state in any way, shape or form, but what we are trying to do is to make sure everyone in the state knows how to clean their boats.”

For funding its Invasive Species Program, Minnesota includes a $5 surcharge on watercraft registered in the state and a $2 surcharge on nonresident fishing licenses. Resort owners say current fees and decal requirements already have cost them business. 

Tuesday
May052015

Pitch Those Plastic Baits Properly

I never tossed used plastic baits into the water. It just didn’t make sense to me. They are no more food for fish than the wrapper from peanut butter crackers or a soda can.

But I saw other people do it, including friends and even some professional anglers. If those discarded baits were in reach before they sank, I’d nonchalantly pick them up and stow them to throw away later on shore. Yet I never said anything to them for a number of reasons, including the fact that often I was fishing out of their boats.

Others, I suspect, have had similar experiences with their fishing buddies.

Why do people who wouldn’t otherwise litter think that it’s okay to pitch used baits into our lakes and rivers? I don’t think that they do. I believe that they just don’t think about it at all. It’s part of the age old problem that we have with using our public waters for trash receptacles--- out of sight, out of mind.

But those discarded baits show up eventually. They’re washed ashore. They’re exposed on the lake bottom during low water. Or, less commonly, they’re found in the stomachs of fish.

When people who don’t fish see this plastic litter, they shake their heads in disgust and view all of us as thoughtless slobs, even though in reality, only a few are responsible.

Still, this is an anglers only problem. We are the only ones who use those baits, and, consequently, we are the only ones who discard them.

And if we don’t take care of the problem on our own, non-anglers will, with possibly catastrophic consequences for those of us who love to fish. Foreshadowing of what could lie ahead nationally occurred in Maine last year, with an attempt to ban soft plastic baits.

Here and there, a few conscientious anglers have addressed the problem in recent years. Up in Minnesota, Mickey Goetting of the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation melts and molds used baits into new ones. Carl Wengenroth at Lake Amistad does the same with River Slung Lures.  And in Florida, state conservation director Eamon Bolten has founded ReBaits, a recycling program that he hopes to expand.

But we’ve needed more, and now we have it, thanks to Keep America Fishing (KAF), the grassroots angler advocacy arm of the recreational fishing industry. The new national campaign is labeled, appropriately enough, “Pitch It,” and it has no less than Kevin VanDam as a spokesman.

“There’s no excuse for throwing anything in the water that isn’t going to break down immediately,” said VanDam. “A crusty sandwich is one thing, but old plastics, fishing line, or any tackle should be carried to shore at the end of the day.

“We have to lead by example.”

Industry leaders at the American Sportfishing Association recognized the need for a national effort because of what happened in Maine, according to Liz Ogilvie, KAF director.

“However, we would like to extend the campaign beyond soft plastic baits to address trash of any type littering our nation’s waterways.

“Our industry has stepped up to take the initiative to tackle this problem head-on and demonstrate that recreational anglers are --- as always--- the best stewards of our nation’s waterways.”

Anglers also buy more than $490 million worth of soft plastic baits a year, nearly double the amount of the next most widely sold lure type, according to Southwick Associates. Additionally, more than 57 percent of those who bought lures in 2014, included soft plastics in their purchases. In other words, plastic baits are indispensable for both fishermen and industry.

On the negative side, University of Wisconsin students in 2009 calculated that 25 million pounds of baits end up in lakes, rivers, and streams annually, while Maine Inland Fisheries put the amount at 20 million pounds.

Both the positive and the negative stats underscore the importance of anglers supporting the Pitch It campaign. Please, go to www.pledgetopitchit.org and pledge to dispose of your used baits in a recycling canister or the trash, instead of the water.

And if you see someone throwing baits in the water or on the ground, speak up. We’ve been silent about this long enough.

(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.) 

Monday
Mar232015

Industry Looks at Boat Design as a Way to Combat Mussel Invasion

Zebra mussels on shopping cart

For years, resource managers focused on education, regulations, and boat inspections to help stop the spread of invasive species such a zebra mussels. But in late January, a new tactic was initiated as a first-of-its-kind boat design summit was staged here.

“If you can build a better boat, it makes it easier down the line,” said Brian Goodwin of the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC), which develops safety standards and is a sponsor. “There is no silver bullet that will solve the problem. But this is part of it.”

Other sponsors included the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state of Minnesota and Lake Minnetonka’s Tonka Bay Marina. Minnesota ranks No. 1 nationally in boat ownership per capita.

Organizers hoped that the event would stimulate recommendations for new designs for the more than 100 boat manufacturers, marina operators, conservation leaders, and biologists in attendance.

“This is a critical piece we need to look at and make sure we’re doing all we can do to reduce the risk,” said Ann Pierce of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “I think it will be extremely beneficial, and not just for Minnesota.”

In addition to attaching themselves to hulls, mussels often stow away on boats in any place that water accumulates, including motors, bilges, livewells, and transom wells. Pontoon boats, the fastest growing sector of the boating industry, and wakeboard boats, which collect water to create wakes, especially are conductive for aquatic hitchhiking. For example, lifting strakes on pontoons enable them to go faster, but they often are sealed only at one end, allowing small mussels entry at the other.

“For a lot of companies, it’s going to be a retooling,” said Bob Menne, owner of Premier Marine, the fourth-largest pontoon manufacturer in the nation, and the only one, he said, to weld strakes and keels to keep out zebra mussels.

“We take it as a very serious issue,” he said.

Wednesday
Feb182015

How About a Nice, Cold Beer Brewed With Zebra Mussel Shells?

Slowly but surely, the public is awakening to the value of Asian carp as food.

And what possibly could go better with a carpburger than mussel beer?

More specifically, a Milfoil Lakehouse Saison Ale, brewed with zebra mussel shells and Eurasian watermilfoil by Excelsior Brewing Co. on Lake Minnetonka. The beer with the “exotic, invasive flavor” is promoted as a way to heighten public awareness about the problems caused by exotic species.

This past fall, Grumpy’s Limited Action Beer Fest challenged breweries to develop beer using only Minnesota ingredients, and Excelsior decided it wanted to push the envelope. It blended Minnesota wild rice, Minnetonka honey, and local hops with a small dollop of aquatic hitchhikers.

“We thought, ‘We’re going to take this to the extreme,’” said Paul Awad, a spokesman for the brewery. “It ended up being a really great beer.”

He explained that only tiny amounts of milfoil and mussel shells were used, and filtering prevents beer drinkers from finding a trace of the ingredients in their glasses. “Neither of them adds a lot of flavor. It’s more the novelty of it,” he said, adding that the brew tastes like many Saisons, with fruity, spicy overtones.

Ryan Anderson from MNbeer.com wasn’t particularly surprised by the mussel/milfoil beer. “There are some breweries out there trying some crazy things,” he said.

For example, seaweed as an added ingredient is becoming more common, while other micro breweries are trying things like fish bladders and oyster shells.

“It’s definitely a kind of interesting thing,” he said of the Excelsior beer. “But stranger things have happened.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources said the exotic brew “sounds really unusual.”

Before this latest offering, Excelsior already created beers that honored its lakeside location, including Big Island Blond Ale. Additionally, 1 percent of its profits support the popular fishery via donations to organizations such as the Freshwater Society.

Meanwhile, in the Cafeteria . . . 

The University of Missouri is testing recipes and gathering reactions as it considers adding the invasive Asian carp to the menu in its dining halls.

About 40 students tried different recipes using the fish during recent taste tests at the Sabai Culinary Development Kitchen on the Missouri campus, and their reactions will help the culinary staff decide whether to serve the fish.

Monday
Feb022015

Sturgeon Recovery Prompts Less Restrictive Regulations in Minnesota

Bruce Holt of G.Loomis (front) and guide John Garrett, briefly hold a white sturgeon for photos

Arguably the Columbia River is the nation’s premier fishery for large sturgeon.

Fishing with guide John Garrett a few years ago, G.Loomis’ Bruce Holt, former PGA golfer Johnny Miller and I caught five white sturgeon , each measuring 9 feet long or more and weighing at least 300 pounds. We could have caught more, but wind and high waves finally chased us off the river.

With the three of us battered and beaten by the huge fish and rough conditions, Miller asked the guide, “Have you ever killed a fisherman out here?”

“Not yet,” said Garrett. “Not yet.”

Will Spychalla and Carlin Salmela caught this 75-inch sturgeon Jan. 1, 2015, on the St. Croix River. The fish, estimated to weigh 115 pounds, could have easily bested the Minnesota record of 94 pounds, 4 ounces, but had to be immediately released because it was out of season. New state rules will allow anglers to target lake sturgeon throughout much of the year. (Photo courtesy of Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle)

Minnesota’s lake sturgeon aren’t that large--- 6 feet long and 100 pounds is a trophy. But they’re becoming more and more abundant, highlighting the impressive recovery of an ancient species once nearly wiped out by overfishing. Reflecting that recovery, the state is introducing liberalized regulations beginning March 1, as reported by Twincities.com.

“At the center of the changes are catch-and-release seasons that will run for most of the year on the St. Croix, Mississippi and St. Louis rivers, the Red River of the North and all inland waters, including the Kettle River, where the official state record -- 94 pounds, 4 ounces -- was caught in 1994.

“The Kettle, which flows into the St. Croix in St. Croix State Park, is among a number of inland waters where sturgeon fishing has been closed for years as populations declined. Under the new rules, all inland waters will be open to catch-and-release fishing from June 16 to April 14.

“Sturgeon well over 100 pounds and longer than 6 feet likely have been caught in the St. Croix River between Taylors Falls and its mouth at the Mississippi River, according to anglers and biologists, with some angler-caught specimens weighing perhaps as much as 150 pounds. Previously, that stretch of water was open to sturgeon fishing for only a month and a half in the fall. The new season will allow fishing throughout the year except from March 2 to June 15.”