Panfish Postcard Survey Winter 2012-2013.
A mail-in survey of angler attitudes was conducted during the winter of 2012-2013 in the vicinity of Little Falls, in central Minnesota. The purpose of this project was to assess angler attitudes pertaining to potential management options for bluegill in the Little Falls work area. Bluegill are almost certainly the most pursued fish in the Little Falls work area. More than twice as many sunfish are harvested in Minnesota each year (15.6 million) than the second most frequently angled fish, the black crappie (7.0 million). Despite the popularity of sunfish to anglers only two lakes in the work area are managed for sunfish via specialized fishing regulations. Since 1999 DNR Fisheries staff have been conducting spring trap net assessments targeting panfish on many area lakes to more adequately assess sunfish populations and determine if suitable growth, recruitment and mortality characteristics exist to manage for quality within these populations. Spring trap net sampling indicated that several lakes contained fast growing bluegill with fishing harvest probably limiting the abundance of larger fish (over 8 inches).
An initial mailing of 1000 surveys was sent to anglers randomly selected from the 2011 DNR License Bureau database. A total of 554 response cards (56% response rate) were received out of a net total of 997 deliverable surveys. This mail-in survey provided a less biased and more comprehensive evaluation of angler attitudes toward intended management strategies than one could expect from the public meeting process. Bluegill fishing was popular amongst respondents with 94% having pursued sunfish within the past year and 59% pursuing sunfish in excess of 20% of the time. A high percentage of anglers (68%) indicated they had harvested a daily limit of sunfish on at least one occasion within the past year and more than 20% had kept limits on 5 or more occasions. A majority of anglers (54% vs 46%) felt that fishing pressure was impacting the quality of sunfish they were catching. Respondents were asked whether they supported or opposed three types of specialized regulations aimed at improving bluegill size structure. A copy of the postcard containing the question asked is found below. Angler support exceeded opposition to all three regulation options explored. The most popular option was a restriction of the bag limit to 10 sunfish which garnered 49% support versus 30% opposition. Few respondents indicated needing more than 20 sunfish to provide a meal for their residence. Reducing the bag limit to 10 fish would not be prohibitive to the harvest of a meal of fish when two or more people are fishing together. It may be possible that a 10 fish bag could promote fishing with friends or family members.
Results from this survey illustrated the popularity of sunfish angling in central Minnesota and provided valuable insights into the behaviors, perceptions and opinions of a large cross- section of respondents. Although sunfish have always been considered a “food fish” by most anglers, responses to this survey suggest that harvest restrictions may be supported by a majority of fishermen/women in an effort to improve sunfish size. The most popular regulation option in this survey consisted of a 10 fish daily bag limit for sunfish which has been shown to increase the size structure of bluegill populations in central Minnesota lakes. A significant percentage (68%) of mail in survey responders had harvested at least one limit of sunfish in the past year indicating that a bag limit reduction may be effective in reducing harvest. In moving forward with more intensive management of the sunfish resource in the Little Falls area, implementation of the 10 fish bag limit on suitable candidate lakes appears to be the most palatable option to our constituents. The other two regulation options which were explored in this survey also received significant support from respondents and may be considered as potentially useful in the future. Based on comments received during the mail in and internet surveys, the 10 fish bag was most popular due to its simplicity. The complexity of the other two options probably reduced their favorability. Several respondents indicated that they did not want to measure each sunfish they caught. Sharing survey results with stakeholders will lend transparency to the decision-making process where public trust often appears compromised by misperceptions about where the public stands on specialized fishing regulations.
Northern pike experimental regulation change effective May 11 2013. Protected slot length limit 24"-36" with a bag limit of six (6). All pike between 24" and 36" must be immediately released. Only one pike may be larger than 36"
Progress Report: Evaluation of Northern Pike Regulations On Big Birch Lake
24-36 Inch Protected Slot Limit
The Little Falls Area DNR Fisheries office has continued to monitor the effects of experimental northern pike regulations on Big Birch Lake (DOW#-77-84) since their inception in the spring of 1996. A 24 inch maximum length limit was in place from 1996 to 2006 when it was modified. The current regulation consists of a 24-36 inch protected slot and a three fish limit which allows one fish over 36 inches in length. The “sunset” date for the present slot limit is scheduled for March of 2015. Since 2006 several sampling efforts have been conducted to track changes in northern pike size structure and abundance and evaluate potential fish community responses to the regulations. These sampling efforts include spring ice-out trapnet assessments in 2007, 2009, and 2010 and gillnet assessments in 2077 and 2010.
Results: Due to the fact that few male northern pike in Big Birch Lake reach a length of 24 inches and no male pike in excess of 30 inches have ever been documented, we have chosen to focus on the female segment of the population when evaluating size structure changes. The proportion of female pike exceeding 30 inches in length captured in spring trapnets has risen steadily since 2005. Roughly 2.5% of female pike exceeded 30 inches in 2005 compared to 4.1% in 2007, 6.7% in 2009, and 11.3 % in 2010. Prior to 2005 the proportion of female pike over 30 inches consistently fell within the 2% to 5% range with the exception of 2003 (22%). The 2003 sample consisted of only 188 pike of which fewer than 100 were females. In the four gillnet surveys prior to implementation of the experimental regulations the northern pike catch averaged 8.7/lift with a range of 4.1 to 14.5/lift. Four gillnet surveys have been performed since the regulation was enacted with pike averaging 9.6/lift and ranging from 5.5 to 14.1/lift.
Walleye are the primary management species in Big Birch Lake and maintaining a desirable population is an important management goal. The 2010 gillnet catch of 11.5/lift fell within the range of management goals (10-15 per lift). Walleye gillnet catch rates have averaged 10.4/lift since the establishment of pike regulations and have ranged from 5.7 to 16.8 per lift. Prior to the pike regulations walleye gillnet catches averaged 14.2/lift with a range of 8.1 to 20.2/lift.
Yellow perch abundance has varied considerably throughout the lake’s history including the regulation evaluation period. No yellow perch were sampled in gillnets in 2007, however numbers rebounded to 16.3/lift in 2010 which is within the normal range for the lake class. The highest perch catch recorded during the evaluation period was 44.9/lift in 1999. Perch catches prior to the northern pike regulations ranged from 4.6 to 40.3 per gillnet lift. Big Birch also continues to support a viable cisco population. Cisco have been present in every gillnet assessment conducted with the 2010 gillnets supplying a sample of 19 fish (1.3/gillnet).
Summary: Our netting evaluations suggest that pike in excess of 30 inches are higher in abundance and make up a larger proportion of the population than they did prior to the enactment of experimental northern pike regulations. The increased presence of larger pike has not resulted in reduced pike recruitment or a consistent reduction in overall pike abundance. Walleye abundance has been somewhat variable during the evaluation period, although it appears that maintaining a population level within the range of management goals is attainable in the presence of current pike regulations. Yellow perch continue to show dramatic fluctuations in abundance as they did prior to the regulations.
Round up of all northern pike regulated lakes near Grey Eagle.