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A movement to slash Minnesota's statewide walleye bag limit from six fish to four is percolating once again inside the Department of Natural Resources, more than a year after the Legislature tossed the idea overboard.

Certain to shake up emotions within the state's universe of anglers, resorts, fishing guides, cabin owners, bait shops, fishing clubs and millions of homespun fish fry lovers, DNR leaders are pursuing the possibility of a major walleye regulation change without going to the Capitol.

DNR Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons said in a recent interview that the agency can reduce the daily take-home limit of walleyes through its rule-making authority. He said the DNR is considering launching such a bid.

"The department is interested in exploring it," said Parsons, who supports a reduced walleye bag limit.

Serious legwork already has begun. The latest public opinion survey on the matter, still under wraps, will be shared soon with the 19-member state walleye committee. Over about the past five years, the citizens advisory group has repeatedly touched on the walleye bag issue — with discord. On Feb. 21, the committee will discuss the idea in detail. Is it reasonable to require license buyers to keep fewer walleyes? Will it help preserve or grow walleye populations?

Parsons said changing the limit isn't feasible this year, but it's a possibility for the 2025-2026 fishing season, or later. A shift of such magnitude would require substantial public input, he said, probably involving open meetings around the state.

"Stuff has gotten heated in the past," said Nate Blasing, a walleye committee member who works as a fishing guide in the Brainerd area. "We need to take a stance. … Give us the data on how the public is feeling and then let's make a recommendation that either, yes, we're in favor or, no, we are not."

Blasing and most members of the advisory committee stand squarely in the "yes" camp. Many of them aligned themselves with former state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, when she carried a bill at the Legislature for three consecutive years, starting in 2020. Eventually backed by DNR, she championed her proposed reduction in the walleye bag limit as an important tool to proactively protect walleye populations from modern-day threats like aquatic invasive species, climate change and intensified year-round fishing pressure from anglers armed with advanced fishing electronics.

Ruud's bill was repeatedly shot down, once by a powerful member of her own caucus and once by a DFL House committee chairman whose home district is lined with fishing resorts that were opposed to a smaller bag limit. The senator's campaign died in 2022, when she exited the Legislature.

Ruud said last week that she's aware of the DNR's rule-making focus on possibly lowering the daily catch limit from six to four. "I sure hope we get there," Ruud said. "We pound the heck out of our walleyes."

Parsons said that the statewide walleye possession limit could come into play as discussions continue. Possession limits, unlike daily bag limits, cap how many fish a licensed angler can possess — regardless of when they were caught. Since 1966 in Minnesota, that number for walleyes has been six.

He said DNR creel clerks have been asking anglers if they would favor an increase in the possession limit if the daily bag limit were reduced.

'Not even a shred' of evidence

Jim Justesen is the self-proclaimed "data dog" on the state walleye committee. An avid fisherman who lives in Brooklyn Center and maintains a lake cabin up north, he steadfastly opposes a reduction in the walleye bag limit. There's simply no scientific justification to make a change, he said. "Not even a shred," he added.

Justesen keeps tabs on DNR lake survey data, obtained in part from fish-netting surveys on about 1,000 lakes actively managed by DNR's fisheries staff. "I'm seeing in my own reviews that walleye counts are going up," he said. "If you take this [bag] limit down, you are just going to reduce opportunities" for people who buy fishing licenses.

At least two other committee members share Justesen's view. One of them is Karry Kyllo, a global positioning satellite specialist and fishing enthusiast who lives in East Grand Forks. He's told fellow committee members he won't go along with a reduced walleye bag limit until the DNR's own lake and fish biologists say it would help walleye populations. So far, there's nothing close to a consensus for any change.

"We have some of the best walleye biologists in the country," Kyllo said. "Let's let them do their jobs."

Paul Radomski, a DNR research scientist who wrote a book on walleyes in 2022, has said that global warming and shoreline destruction are the walleye's primary threats. Cutting the bag limit would do nothing to address those problems and wouldn't save a measurable number of fish, he has said.

He and other scientists have said most walleye fishing outings result in two walleyes per angler or less. Catching a limit of six is out of the ordinary across Minnesota and remains a badge of honor, at least for one day.

Justesen said a 1996 creel survey of anglers leaving Lake Winnibigoshish recorded an astonishingly low success rate. Of 14,000 people surveyed, only 143 caught their limit of six.

Walleye committee member Gary Korsgaden of Park Rapids, who writes a fishing column, said it was frustrating to watch DNR executives support a change in the walleye bag limit at the Legislature. If they now try to cut the bag limit via administrative rule-making, the agency will neglect its pledge to "follow the science" on fish and game matters, Korsgaden said.

"I've asked at three of our meetings … what walleye fisheries are in trouble? What lakes are in peril? Where's the problem?" Korsgaden said. "I get no comment."

Parsons and Blasing say it's risky to stand pat in the increasingly dynamic world of fishing. Zebra mussels and other invasives are degrading more and more walleye lakes; anglers are improving their success rates with the use of underwater imaging equipment; winter fishing pressure has grown along with sales of camper-like wheelhouses; and continuing research is raising concerns that climate change is squeezing walleyes out of ideal habitat.

"We want to be proactive," Parsons said. "You can sit and study it to death.''

An established path

Except Lake Winnibigoshish, all of Minnesota's biggest walleye lakes have been assigned lower walleye bag limits based on lake-specific research. Parsons said it's not feasible to duplicate the research on hundreds of additional lakes, so why not go to a more uniform approach. In doing so, he said, Minnesota would follow in the footsteps taken by neighboring states and Ontario.

He said the DNR didn't rely on science when it established the daily bag limit of six more than 50 years ago and it's had recent success enhancing crappie fishing by cutting the daily bag limit in half.

If the DNR takes a stab at changing the walleye bag limit, Parsons said, public feedback will be critical. In previous opinion surveys, a third of respondents have favored a lower limit, a third have opposed it and a third have no opinion.

"When you make a major change on something high profile ... it takes a lot of effort," Parsons said. "Are anglers ready for it? Are they supportive of it?"

Parsons noted that discussions about a lower walleye bag limit have been going on inside and outside the DNR for about seven years. He remembers presenting the idea in 2017 or 2018 at the annual DNR Roundtable. This year's Roundtable will be held Friday in Bloomington.

"This hasn't happened overnight," Parsons said.