Anglers, resort owners deal with tighter regulations
Written by Associated Press   
Friday, 19 November 2004 07:42

New walleye and sauger regulations set to take effect Dec. 1 on Lake of the Woods and Rainy River are drawing a mix of optimism and uncertainty among resort owners and anglers.

Optimism, because the reduced bag limits and protected slot should help maintain the quality fishing anglers have come to expect. Uncertainty, because the restrictions could steer some visitors away from making the long drive to the big lake even if the fishing's good.

It's a familiar story any time fishing regulations take a turn for the tighter.

"We're real worried about it," said Nick Painovich, who owns Zippel Bay Resort north of Williams with his wife, Deanna. "This is quite a thing to swallow by the fishing public."

Williams is just south of the U.S.-Canada border and about 72 miles northeast of Thief River Falls.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced new regulations that will reduce the walleye limit on the lake and river from six fish to four and protect walleyes from 19 1/2 to 28 inches in length. Anglers now can keep six walleyes, of which only one can be longer than 19 1/2 inches. Meanwhile, the winter limit will go from 14 fish to eight, with no more than four walleyes in the bag.

According to Mike Larson, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Baudette, the new regulations are necessary to maintain fishing quality at a time of increased angling pressure, a trend most apparent in the winter. The walleye take has averaged about 600,000 pounds annually the past five years, far surpassing the DNR's "target harvest" of 450,000 pounds.

Last winter alone, anglers logged about 2 million hours of fishing pressure on the frozen lake, far more than the five-year average of 1.2 million. And with a fishing season that's open from mid May through April 14, "there's no break for the fish," Larson said.

Larson says the new regulations will bring the harvest back in line with DNR goals. He said a majority of comments the DNR received during the required public input process supported the proposal, and that's why it went through without any changes.

"There was quite a bit of support to make it happen before winter," Larson said. "I know the regulation is like preventive maintenance to protect the world-class fishery we have here. That's how we're looking at it, and it should provide excellent fishing well into the future for both walleye and sauger."

An outspoken opponent of the proposal, Painovich says he asked the DNR to hold off on the slot limits and keep the summer walleye limit at six. He says he could have lived with reduced limits in the winter, and a survey he took of resort and motel owners along the south shore showed 82 percent felt the same way.

But the slot and the reduced summer limit, he says, puts Lake of the Woods resort owners on an uneven playing field with competitors elsewhere. Even Ontario, Painovich says, allows anglers to keep one fish longer than 18 inches on its side of Lake of the Woods.

"We all agreed that we needed the cutback in the winter," Painovich said. "We didn't see any reason for such an extreme slot. We're real disappointed the DNR didn't give in a little. They were courteous to listen, but we never felt they were going to give our concerns any real consideration."

Despite such criticism, other resort owners welcomed the new regulations. Ed Arnesen of Arnesen's Rocky Point Resort, whose family has made its living on Lake of the Woods for more than 100 years, says he thinks tighter limits are inevitable.

"I think it's positive for Lake of the Woods," Arnesen said. "I think the people here are taking charge of their own destiny, and we know what the resource can handle. I think this is the future of fishing not only in Minnesota but nationwide. The idea is to go out and catch fish, not just to bring a limit or whatever in."

Get past the business concerns, and average anglers also appear to support the regulations. Curt Quesnell of Thief River Falls, who moderates a Lake of the Woods forum on the Web site http:www.fishingminnesota.com, said he favors the new regulations and doesn't think they will keep visitors away.

"You hate to see something like this happen, but if you look at what is going on, you can see that something has got to give," Quesnell said. "I think people generally are very acceptable to it."

The DNR's Larson says he hopes anglers and resort owners learn to accept the new regulations as a positive change.

"We're doing this to ensure (resort owners) have a resource to attract people to their business," he said. "Right now, we have a very good walleye fishery. We just needed to tweak the harvest down to sustainable levels. This regulation will do that."

 
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