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Bigger bluegills, better access among Minnesota DNR fisheries chief's top goals

The DNR is aiming to launch a Quality Bluegill Initiative to improve the opportunities for larger bluegills. Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons said special regulations will be proposed for about 100 lakes identified as having the potential to produce big bluegills. Nolan Cinco holds up his catch of bluegills in this West Central Tribune file photo. West Central Tribune file photo1 / 3
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will be proposing bag limits of five or 10 bluegills on perhaps 100 lakes as part of its Quality Bluegill Initiative. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo2 / 3
Brad Parsons3 / 3

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Opening up more shoreline fishing opportunities in Greater Minnesota and moving the Quality Bluegill Initiative forward are high on the agenda for Brad Parsons, fisheries chief for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Parsons, who is 18 months into his role, outlined his goals and fielded questions on today's “hot topics” in fisheries management at the annual Roundtable hosted by the agency Jan. 24 in Bloomington.

The fisheries chief also made known he still has his qualms about the possibility of allowing two lines during the open water season, and he’s not necessarily ready to endorse a call for ending commercial turtle harvesting.

The Quality Bluegill Initiative aims to provide opportunities for bluegill to grow to bigger size. The state’s record bluegill dates to 1948. It’s commonly believed that the average size of bluegills has been decreasing ever since in response to increased angling pressure.

Parsons said the DNR is looking at establishing five-bag or 10-bag bluegill limits on more than 100 lakes to start the initiative.

Some lakes in the Willmar area are among those being considered for the special regulations.

Dave Coahran, fisheries supervisor in Spicer, told the West Central Tribune that he’s contacted the lakes associations for Long Lake by Hawick and George, Diamond and Big Kandiyohi lakes that they were submitted for consideration. He’s recommending five-bag limits on George, Diamond and Big Kandi and a 10-bag limit on Long. Currently, anglers are allowed to keep 20 sunfish.

From a scientific standpoint, it probably makes more sense to place a limit on how many bluegill over eight inches an angler may keep, according to Parsons. But he said the DNR has received a lot of feedback over a size limit. Lots of young people are introduced to fishing by pursuing panfish, he pointed out.

Parsons said the lakes that will be chosen for special bluegill regulations will be those with the best prospects for producing larger bluegills.

Enhancing opportunities to access the fish with public shoreline opportunities is a priority, according to the fisheries director. He wants the agency to do more to identify, acquire and enhance shoreline fishing opportunities. The DNR is launching a pilot program in Meeker County with improved shoreline fishing the goal, he said.

Two lines

As for allowing two lines during the open water season, Parsons said his division had significant concerns with the bill introduced during the last legislative session. Yes, neighboring states allow two lines, but they also have lower bag limits in place. “Is that the way we want to go?” he asked.

The director also pointed out that thanks to electronics, social media and improved boats and equipment, anglers are becoming increasingly efficient. “Would now be the right time to make people more efficient? I don’t know,” he said.

Commercial turtle harvesting

Christopher Smith of the Minnesota Herpetological Society asked Parsons what it would take to get DNR support for a bill that would prohibit commercial turtle harvesting. The state allows limited commercial harvest of snapping, spiny softshell and painted turtles. Smith said the science is clear that the commercial harvest of turtles is unsustainable.

Parsons said he’s not certain he has seen proof that it is unsustainable. He said the DNR needs to gather better data on turtles in its lake surveys.

He pointed out that the DNR has supported the phase-out of commercial turtle licenses. Current license holders can pass on the license once to a relative, he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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