On Fishing Regulations - An Open Letter

For all of the years I have fished and hunted, in all of the lakes, on all of the lands and in all of the states where I have been privileged to have had the opportunity to chase the game that I have ultimately invited to dinner, I have not once complained about the cost of a license for those activities, nor have I bothered to ask anyone for the rationale behind the ever-increasing cost of the license or the daily and possession limits for any species of fish or game.

I have always paid the licensing fees gladly, knowing that a good portion of the fee was going to be spent on worthwhile programs for restocking and managing our valued resources, educating those who were taking advantage of them, and paying the salaries to enforce the codes for those who were wantonly violating the very laws that were put in place to protect those very same resources.

Of late, I have also listened to old-timers and youngsters alike who have begun to question the equity of those very regulations put in place to insure that adequate resources would remain in place for all to enjoy for generations to come.

One particular issue that has begun to bother me is the coming changes in bag and possession limits for certain game fish in many lakes in many states. Of course the issue has become ever more important with the reading of today's headline stating that: "If current trends of over-fishing and pollution continue, the populations of just about all seafood face collapse by 2048, a team of ecologists and economists warns in a report in of the journal Science." That is pretty serious stuff.

But I am reminded of a recent editorial comment in Boat US magazine by a retired gentleman from Florida who stated that he had been traveling on an annual basis from Florida to Michigan (and all states in-between) for the sole purpose of fishing - his passion in life.

He commented that he and other folks in his same "predicament" - supposedly living now in the golden years - should be afforded the opportunity to purchase a single, federal fishing license good for all states, rather than having to purchase expensive licenses in each and every state in which he dropped a line (he spends many hundreds of dollars a year just on licenses).

Mind you, he wasn't complaining. He was just curious about the reason that the laws were written in that way... Sure, a few changes have been effected, but essentially they are the same as they have been since they were first written a great many years ago - just more expensive for the license.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I began to ask myself the same kinds of questions. With changing times and changing conditions, perhaps it is time to take a very hard look at our hunting and fishing regulations. Things are vastly different now from the way that they were back in the early parts of the 20th century when few would bother to hunt and fish, and fewer still could afford to go any great distance for that purpose.

More importantly, fish game were plentiful and there were virtually no laws other than common sense and ethical behavior governing the way we behaved and interacted with nature. Unfortunately those two things were not effective in wildlife management.

One does not have to look far to find what has happened as a simple result of over-fishing and over-hunting, not to mention habitat destruction, which further exasperates the situation. Many species are on the verge of extinction, others are gone from the planet forever. Ergo, fishing and hunting regulations were put in place, and for good reason.

While many of the regulations and restrictions are put in place for the good of the species, and also so that all of us will be able to continue to enjoy all of fruits that nature has to offer, there are a few aspects of certain new regulations that deserve at least a second look.

Remembering the gentleman from Florida as I watch what is about to happen on a certain lake in northern Minnesota (Kabetogama) - it has already taken place on numerous other lakes - I decided to send an e-mail to the Minnesota DNR to share with them my thoughts on an upcoming decision that seems to be a certainty: to reduce the bag/possession limit for walleye to four (4) fish on that lake.

If the letter touches a nerve for you, get active and send your own letter to whomever can help to rethink what may be some antiquated ideas. Here is a copy of my e-mail, sent to 'Kevin.peterson@dnr.state.mn.us':

Hi Kevin – Having been a fairly dedicated fisherman for the better part of my 56 years, I read with chagrin the likely outcome from talks about changes in the slot sizes and bag limits for Kabetogama in the coming season.
Although I would think that comments like mine have already been voiced, I would be remiss if I did not state them as well. While I realize that increasing pressure is being placed on natural resources – I was saddened with the headlines today about the eminent collapse of world’s fish and seafood supplies – I must say the answer for Kabetogama doe not lie solely with reducing the bag limit.
And the reason is an issue of equity. There are many like me who are fortunate enough to be able to afford the time and cost of driving 600 or more miles to Kabetogama for a single vacation. Even so, fish are more often than not hard to come by (we all know that the weather can severely reduce the time available on the water).
But if the weather is kind and the fishing is good, the thought of six walleyes in my cooler at least seems to make the trip a bit more affordable; multiple trips for the purpose of having more fish in my freezer are however, simply out of the question due to time and monetary constraints.
For those who live in the state of Minnesota, and especially those not far from Kab, it is easy to take multiple trips to the lake and never worry about possession, and  fill a home freezer with walleyes – regardless of the bag limit.
We are all expected to live by the code ascribed by the license to which we affix our signature. You and I both know that unfortunately, that does not happen. And that is one of the major reasons our resources are being depleted. But simply limiting the walleye bag limit to 4 – for all anglers – will not solve the problem of depleting a valuable resource, if that is in fact the goal here.

As a fisherman, I am also a tourist. And as such, I am one of many who bring vast amounts of tourist dollars to the state of Minnesota – to Lake Kabetogama in particular. As much as I love Kab – and I have been coming to the lake every year since my father first brought me there in 1972 – if the bag limit is reduced to four for me, I will have to at least consider the possibility of finding another lake where I can be afforded the opportunity of bringing more fish home with me.

I know that I cannot be the only one considering this. And while I am convinced that the slot limit has really helped Kabetogama, I firmly believe that the already-stressed and declining resort business will be further hurt by implementing a new, lower bag limit for walleyes.

The hurt will not come from those who live within a few hours’ drive; they do not usually stay at the resorts and do not spend their dollars around the lake. The hurt will come from those who would rather not drive that long distance to take home less fish. Although their dollars may still come to Minnesota, they will most certainly not come to Lake Kabetogama and its businesses.

I would hope that the Minnesota DNR would at least consider implementing a plan that takes those thoughts into consideration. Because I am not a resident of Minnesota, my license is far more expensive, yet I have to drive farther and spend a good deal more in order to take home the same number of fish as someone who lives in, for instance, Minneapolis, Duluth, Hibbing or International Falls.

I know… that’s the way it has always been done. But things are vastly different now. Don’t you think that it is perhaps time to take a hard look at “the way it has always been done”? If you must implement this reduction in bag limit, at least consider how to do it equitably.

No matter what anyone says, the possible reduced bag limit for walleye can and will have the potential to have a very negative impact on tourism dollars in the area – especially hard hit will be those who have so much invested in a tremendous natural resource: the resort and business owners on the lake.

As always, I hope to see you On the Lake!