MINNEAPOLIS -- Upward of 250 fishing tournaments are going forward in Minnesota this season despite significant rule changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jon Hansen, fisheries consultant and tournament policy coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said he will contact tournament organizers soon to remind them that in-person fish weigh-ins aren't allowed under restrictions that were renewed Thursday by Gov. Tim Walz.
"We have to continue with no weigh-ins," Hansen said. "It's a big change and we understand it's going to be a big challenge for everyone."
COVID-19 restrictions for outdoor gatherings remain limited to 10 people if social distancing is maintained. But the DNR considers the congregation of anglers and tournament officials at weigh-in stations off-limits even if anglers remain in their boats while judges retrieve their fish and weigh them.
"The executive order says gatherings of 10 or more are prohibited 'even if social distancing can be maintained,'?" Hansen said.
The "even if" language indicates that anglers should not convene on a central location even if they take additional and admittedly creative precautions, he said.
As a workaround, the DNR has been encouraging catch-measure-release formats where no fish are brought to a central weigh-in. "This format is becoming quite popular and uses cellphone apps like TourneyX, FishDonkey or iCatch to register fish," the DNR told tournament organizers in an e-mail earlier this month.
Hansen said some tournaments, including the Student Angler Trail Tournament, have taken it a step further by allowing anglers to fish any local water and register fish online.
Other specific restrictions that remain in place under the governor's revised executive order say events can't hold in-person rules meetings or in-person awards ceremonies. Spectators are prohibited, social distancing must be kept throughout the tournament, and competitions must employ staggered starts or use multiple points of departure.
"Generally folks have been very understanding, thus far," Hansen said. But he repeated that the rule against fish weigh-ins continues to be "a tough one."