Bear hunters who are successful in 2019 and after would be required to submit a bear tooth sample to be eligible for the upcoming year’s bear hunting license lottery under a new rule proposed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR has for many years required hunters to submit bear tooth samples. In response to low compliance, the agency two years ago began mailing letters reminding hunters to send the samples. The proposed rule would give hunters an incentive to follow the legal requirement, and the DNR would stop sending the letters.
Biologists use the tooth samples to determine the age of each harvested bear and ultimately estimate how many bears live in the state.
“These tooth samples help the DNR gather enough data for a good population estimate, and we will no longer have to pay the cost of mailing the letters,” said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section chief.
The change is the only new proposal in a rule package that moves dozens of temporary wildlife rules that have been in effect for several seasons to permanent status. Because the rules are already in effect, hunters won’t notice a difference when they become permanent.
An example of a temporary rule that would become permanent is sandhill crane hunting, which has been open in northwestern Minnesota by temporary rule since 2010.
A copy of the draft rules and more information about how to comment is available online at mndnr.gov/input/rules/wildlife.
The DNR will accept written comments supporting or opposing the rule changes through Tuesday, Jan. 22. Comments may be submitted to Jason Abraham, Box 20, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4020 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anglers will be able to keep fewer walleye and sauger beginning Friday, March 1, on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
“The new regulations will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource while maintaining fishing opportunities,” said Phil Talmage, DNR Baudette area fisheries supervisor. “We received a ton of public comment from anglers all over the state and there was very strong support for the proposed changes.”
The winter regulations on Lake of the Woods will match the current summer regulations, reducing the aggregate walleye and sauger limit from eight to six, with no more than four walleye. The protected slot limit remains in effect that requires anglers to immediately release any walleye between 19.5 and 28 inches, with only one fish over 28 inches allowed in possession.
On the lake, the changes are a response to expanding winter fishing pressure that pushed sauger harvest above management objectives – the annual target harvest is 250,000 pounds but current harvest is 400,000 pounds. Winter angling accounted for 80 percent of the annual sauger harvest.
“The walleye and sauger fishery on the lake remains strong right now, but we’re looking to the future and adapting regulations based on what we’re seeing through our fish monitoring program and angler surveys,” Talmage said.
Rainy River regulations
On the Rainy River and Fourmile Bay, a catch-and-release season will be in effect March 1 to April 14. The current Rainy River spring season regulation allows anglers to keep two walleye or sauger, and requires the immediate release of walleye 19.5 inches in length or larger.
The changes on the river are a response to increasing fishing pressure and longer periods of open water that has led to higher harvest of walleye, particularly male walleye in the spring.
Despite higher harvest, 95 percent of anglers who participated in the spring fishery do so for the opportunity to catch big walleyes, catch a lot of walleye and just get the boat in the water, according to DNR angler surveys. Less than two percent of anglers indicated that the primary reason for participating was to keep walleye.
The DNR has also recently updated the fisheries management plan for Lake of the Woods. That plan, developed through a public input process, will guide fisheries management on Lake of the Woods through 2023.
“We sincerely appreciate the contributions of time and effort made by the citizen participants on the Lake of the Woods Fisheries Input Group. Their input was critical in developing new harvest regulations and updating the management plan,” Talmage said.
More information about Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River, the new management plan, and a document detailing public comments and DNR responses to frequently asked questions can be found at mndnr.gov/lakeofthewoods.
Leech Lake anglers will be able to keep a wider size range of walleye starting on the 2019 fishing opener.
“Walleye abundance in Leech Lake is currently at a point that we can provide anglers additional harvest opportunity beginning in May,” said Doug Schultz, Walker area fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “We got here through protective fishing regulations and consistently good year classes over the past 10 years.”
The new regulations, which will take effect Saturday, May 11, will remove the 20- to 26-inch protected slot and replace it with a regulation similar to the statewide regulation, but with a four-fish walleye limit, only one of which can be over 20 inches.
Currently, anglers on Leech Lake can keep four fish, but must immediately release any walleye that are within a 20- to 26-inch protected slot limit. Only one fish over 26 inches is allowed in possession. The four-fish walleye possession limit on Leech Lake has been in effect since 2005.
Adaptive management on Leech Lake
Schultz said each year on Leech Lake, the DNR evaluates the success of current regulations, and looks at fish population data and angler surveys.
“We also work with the Leech Lake Fisheries Input Group, area businesses and community members. They’ve been strongly supportive of these changes,” Schultz said.
Leech Lake’s management plan includes goals for the lake’s walleye population. Walleye have exceeded the management goals for six of the past seven years, leaving a window open for increasing harvest opportunity. DNR lake surveys show naturally reproducing year classes of younger walleye are present to replace additional fish taken by anglers.
By the same token, if future fisheries assessments or increased fishing pressure indicate harvest should be reduced, the DNR anticipates revisiting the protected slot limit.
Perch populations in the lake, unlike walleye, have been below management objectives for five of the past six years, an expected result of a high walleye population. One goal of additional walleye harvest is to reduce the amount of perch being preyed upon by walleye, which may increase the perch population.
More information about Leech Lake, including the management plan for the lake, can be found at mndnr.gov/leechlake.