Fresh look at rough fish and their protection builds steam

Tony Kennedy, Star Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

The "No Junk Fish Bill" carried this year in the Minnesota House by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn would have required the Department of Natural Resources to evaluate rough fish designations and whether any nongame species need protection or management.

The bill included a $250,000 appropriation and a deadline of next summer for a written report to the Legislature.

To the dismay of admirers of dogfish (bowfin), bigmouth buffalo, northern hogsuckers, redhorse suckers, and other native fish, the bill failed. Still, there's new life in their movement to grow respect for non-invasive fish with downturned mouths, oversized scales and elongated dorsal fins. Consider the following:

— State fisheries chief Brad Parsons said this week the DNR is on the brink of announcing its first-ever bag limit for eelpout, or burbot. It's a long-awaited followup to the landmark reclassification of eelpout from rough fish to game fish in 2021.

— Fisheries personnel are in the midst of setting possession limits for longnose gar and shortnose gar, rough fish that gained attention last year at the Legislature. A widely circulated YouTube video showed 82 of them laying dead across the ice on the Minnesota River. They had been speared by a group of fishermen who were killing them for fun. The individuals weren't ticketed for wanton waste because enforcement agents determined the fish were not discarded, but used in some fashion, like fertilizer. With some exceptions, it's currently OK to take gar and other rough fish in unlimited numbers or high numbers any time of year if they are used in some fashion.

— The grassroots group that embraced the "No Junk Fish Bill'' is getting more organized. They recently formed a 501(c)(3) advocacy group called Native Fish for Tomorrow. Tyler Winter, an environmental scientist in the Twin Cities who champions Minnesota's 26 species of native nongame fish, said the group will work to change public perceptions.


"The (DNR's) list of rough fish is arbitrary and has no biological justification,'' Winter said. "We want people to take a fresh look at these fish.''

One culturally embedded misconception is that the DNR wants people to kill native rough fish because many are listed as having no possession limit and perceived as having no value. Worse, some people conflate native rough fish with common carp, an invasive species targeted by DNR for mass removal for ruining critical habitat in lakes and rivers.

"The DNR needs to create limits for these fish so people can see them as a benefit, not a detriment,'' Winter said.

The redhorse sucker fish, for example, is a vital food source for game fish. In the St. Croix River basin, Wisconsin officials list the river redhorse as a threatened species. Yet in Minnesota, redhorse is only a "rough fish.''


swipe to next page
©2022 StarTribune. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus