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Anglers criticize spear-fishing bill

Published (1/30/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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“How do you catch and release a speared fish?” asked Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake), chairman of the House Game, Fish and Forestry Division.

“You don’t,” replied Shawn Kellett, president of the Muskies Inc. Twin Cities Chapter. The exchange took place during a Jan. 26 hearing on HF26 that would amend state fishing laws to allow non-residents to take fish by spearing them from a dark house, which is typically a portable canvas tent placed over the ice.

The division took no action on the bill sponsored by Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar). A companion bill, SF220, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) said the change would allow former residents who return to the state on vacation to participate in this form of recreation.

Vern Wagner, chairman of Anglers for Habitat, opposes the bill because of the shortage of trophy-sized Northern Pike. “We need to fix Northern Pike and we don’t fix Northern Pike by sticking forks in them,” Wagner said.

Juhnke cautioned division members not to think of the bill as a conservation issue.

“If conservation of species is the case, please pull the cameras out of the water today. And take the fish finders off the boat today,” he said.

Rather, it’s a reciprocity issue. Border states don’t allow Minnesotans to hunt waterfowl in their states. So Minnesota doesn’t allow their residents to spear fish in its waters.

“South Dakota and North Dakota are kind of famous for their waterfowl. I know their population is less than a million in each state and we’ve got 5.7 (million). I get that they don’t want us over there en masse,” Dill said.

Department of Natural Resources Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier agreed that it’s a “social issue about how we are treated in other states.” If enacted, the law would not significantly impact the fisheries, Meier said.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) compared the issue to other recreational opportunities, saying there are a few anglers who could give the sport a “bad name” and that they could “ruin spearing for our residents.” For that reason, he did not support the bill.

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