ST. PAUL — A bill that would have prevented the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from expanding its muskellunge stocking program died quietly in the Legislature.
In the frantic final moments of this year’s session, which ended Sunday, no vote was taken on the bill. That means the DNR will be able to move forward with its plans to possibly put muskies in a handful of lakes in which they currently don’t occur.
The plan includes three lakes in Otter Tail County that are popular with Fargo-Moorhead area anglers: Lizzie, Loon and Franklin. The DNR wants to put muskies on one of those lakes, along with Big Marine Lake in Washington County, Gull Lake near Brainerd and the Fairmont Chain in Fairmont.
“We won ugly, but a win is a win,” said Shawn Kellott of Muskies Inc. in Minnesota. “Hopefully we won’t have to do this again next year.”
Supporters of the bill (opponents of muskie stocking) believe muskies damage walleye and panfish populations. Made up mostly of lake association members, muskie opponents also cite increased boat traffic on muskie lakes.
Stocking supporters, including the DNR, say there is no evidence muskies damage walleye populations.
The measure would not have affected the 99 lakes already managed for muskies, including 44 lakes in which they are stocked and not native.
The DNR plans to move ahead with its stocking plans on new lakes.
“Since the legislation did not pass, we’re going to proceed like the legislation was never proposed. Nothing changes from our standpoint,” said DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira.
Pereira said the DNR plans to continue working with local units of government and have a continuing dialogue with stakeholders in the areas of possible muskie stocking. The DNR hopes to have stocking plans finalized by mid-summer. The agency normally stocks muskies in the autumn.
The DNR will choose to stock muskies in either Lizzie, Loon or Franklin on that same timeframe.
“We will just do one of those three,” Pereira said. “That would be sufficient to satisfy the needs in the western part of the state.”
Kellott said he expects a lawsuit from muskie opponents to try to stop stocking. Pereira wasn’t so sure.
“If you look at Pelican Lake they tried it and it didn’t turn out very well for them,” Pereira said. “The thought of a lawsuit is just speculation. I wouldn’t even want to guess whether that might happen.”
Pereira was referring to a lawsuit filed by some residents on Pelican Lake in Otter Tail County last year in an attempt to halt stocking in that lake. A judge ruled against the suit and the DNR stocked muskies in the lake, as it has for decades.
“The most unfortunate thing about this is we’re fighting over something that doesn’t matter. Muskies don’t hurt anything. The facts show that. We could be spending our time and money to help the resource, but instead we’re using it to fight over something that isn’t going to actually affect anybody. Nobody is being served by this,” Kellott said.