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Fishing tourneys: Invasive species?

Lake Bemidji's 12th annual Kraus-Anderson "Walleye Classic" has come and gone. Like a circus leaving town the shoreline tents have been struck, the powerful fishing boats have sped off to the next tournament - which Minnesota has plenty of. Up to 600 permits for competitive fishing events are issued each year from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Local boosters tout the "give-back" to the community (money raised for Boys and Girls Club, Youth League Baseball, Special Olympics and others). Fishing-gear companies hawk the latest in boats, motors, depth finders and underwater video cameras. But what about our lake? Who speaks for it?

Beginning in 2001, the Minnesota DNR, has regulated fishing contests. But Lake Bemidji has three formal fishing competitions during the summer. Not including "pre-fishing" days, the tourneys add up to a more than a week of heavy fishing pressure by up to 200 professional teams. This seems like a lot.

The heavy boats, racing endlessly across the lake, churn up silt and organic matter. They endanger waterfowl, especially loons with young. The 200-horsepower outboards certainly add gas and oil to the water. And, no small matter, the boats' arrival from the NASCAR-like circuit of other lakes across the Midwest increases the chance of importing invasive species. Professional fishing people are probably far more careful about transporting milfoil and Zebra mussels than the average angler, but these pro fishing boats have, well, slept around.

Another big problem is fish mortality. A Minnesota conservation officer on the scene at the KA Classic said, "There are serious issues with tournaments like this and dead fish afterward." The fish remain in boats' live wells all day; they are handled several times, hoisted up for the requisite photos at the final weigh-in, and then released. Eagles eat well the next day. When the pro fishermen leave town, the rest of us are left with fewer walleyes harder to catch - and a lake that needs a serious rest.

I raise these issues as a lifelong outdoorsman with fish in my freezer and taxidermy on my wall. Not all sportsmen and women support this high-tech, high-dollar, most- "poundage"-wins kind of fishing.

The current ethos of competitive fishing is simply not sustainable. The KA and other tourneys need to be totally rethought. Require muskie-style fish documentation (catch-photograph-immediate release). Go from there.

Who speaks for the lake? Today, I do.

Will Weaver