Walleye or muskie? The fish wars continue

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The Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee heard a bill this week that pits walleye anglers against muskellunge anglers in a long-standing controversy that has been simmering for several years. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) maintains that muskie fishing is the fastest-growing type of angling in Minnesota. The anti-muskie movement is vocal and especially strong in Otter Tail County.

Supporters of the anti-muskie bill argue that the DNR has not been listening to a large group of more traditional anglers who believe muskie expansion is happening at the expense of sunnies, crappies, and walleyes. They say muskies are not native to Otter Tail County and muskie stocking appears to be adversely affecting the natural fishing communities. They argue that panfish and walleye help support the area’s tourism economy, and they should be protected. They say an independent study is needed to get better information about what is really happening in these lakes.

Opponents of the bill argue that muskie fishing is a growing sport, with expanding youth programs. Restrictions on muskie angling are a setback for a species that other states are increasingly protecting as a valuable draw for anglers. The bill, they say, rejects the DNR’s muskellunge management plan, ignoring the science that has gone into that work and substitutes policies not backed by real evidence. They also point out that the data show that walleyes and crappie are not primary forage for muskies, and they typically do better after muskies are introduced. The issue has been studied considerably, and to put money toward another study is not a good use of funds.

Following considerable testimony, the committee passed on a voice vote an amendment that stripped out most of the bill’s provisions, leaving in place only the moratorium of stocking muskies in Otter Tail County, and the funding of an independent study in that county. The bill was set aside for possible inclusion in a larger bill. (SF 3319)