Sunday, November 5, 2023

Minnows and Fishing

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Conservation, Sustainability, Global Change

Ed Hessler

Here's the problem - a complicated one - as described by Tony Kennedy (Star Tribune, July 30, 2023). 

"Pick a day, any day. The legion of anglers who fish in Minnesota want more minnows than the state's live bait trappers can provide." By the way it is not the result of an increase in demand as Kennedy explains. "(T)odays trappers face a shrinking universe of wild lakes, ponds, rivers and streams suitable and accessible for state-approved harvesting."

Other states have solved this problem by importing live minnows "but Minnesota and Maine are the only two states that still prohibit minnow importation."

In an interview with Jon Thelen, host of Destination Fish Television said "'Every single angler in Minnesota is missing how important this is. This isn't some weird tough-luck deal that's lasting a year or two. This could be the beginning of a large falloff.'"

Kennedy notes two long-term concerns. One is "will there be enough minnows to sustain fishing success by "the hoards of Minnesotans" who wet their lines "three or four times a year?" There is a concern that these anglers will "find other things to do."  Furthermore, fishing has to be kept affordable.

The other is attracting minnow trappers, "a demanding way of life." Kennedy makes use of MnDNR data to make important points. "(T)he number of licensed minnow dealers - 384  in 2002 to 233 in 2022 (~ a third). Live bait harvest, including leeches, declined at least 35% from 2017 to 2021.'  The industry depends on a secretive milieu of mom-and-pop operators who tap public backwaters around the state that they hope won't be discovered by other trappers."

This is also a story abouts habitat change leading to "a growing scarcity of harvestable water.", e.g., "invasive aquatic species have effectively put many waters off limits. Ponds dry up (drainage system installations, purchase of undeveloped shoreline which leads to developments ruining minnow habitat); "recurring floods allow predatory fish to swim into once-isolated minnow waters; governmental agencies interested "into conservation projects that become inaccessible for minnow trapping."

And finally there is drought and fears that what we have experienced recently is a long-term trend. Two consecutive drought years have lowered water levels in minnow ponts, leading to freeze-outs during winter," made worse in 2023 by  oxygen depleting heavy snows" and subsequent "winter kills."

Aquaculture would seem an answer but "Minnesota winters are too long" for it "to succeed on a large scale. Fisheries biologist Don Schreiner is part of a Sea Grant demonstration project...investigating ways to farm golden shiners - what a beautiful fish -  for the bait industry." He favors "the DNR on keeping the state's doors closed to out-of-state minnows," saying 'Once you open the door in regulatory things, that door seems to swing wider over time.."  Schreiner has received enough calls..."from young people who would like to make a living in the world of fish and wildlife," making him "cautiously optimistic about the future.

The solution is attracting new, young minnow trappers.

From "Industry In Peril As Live Bait Wanes," by Tony Kennedy, Star Tribune, July 30, 2023. It is still completely accessible and I thank the Star Tribune for this access. I hope you have or will read, think about and discuss it with others.

This is important reporting with many angles: economics, business, careers, policy, wildlife,  etc. Natural systems are in the balance, one that is readily tipped leading to a variety of outcomes with various levels of desirability and preference.


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