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DNR examines impact of Lake Bemidji angling

BEMIDJI — For the first time in more than a decade, the local Department of Natural Resources office is trying to figure out just how much pressure hundreds of anglers are putting on the Lake Bemidji’s fish population.

Next week, the office will begin the winter phase of their yearlong creel survey, named for the baskets in which the fishermen put their catch, on Lake Bemidji.

Gary Barnard, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR, said Monday his office has noticed a growing number of people fishing on the lake compared to previous years, but they want to confirm that anecdotal trend with actual data. Researchers have been approaching Lake Bemidji anglers since the fishing opener this spring and interviewing them about the size of their haul and what types of fish they’re taking.

“(Lake) Bemidji is supported by natural-reproduction walleyes,” Barnard said. “We want to know how much harvest is occurring, and how that’s maybe impacting the fishery.”

The survey also focuses on northern pike and perch, he said.

Barnard said it’s been about 11 years since the last creel survey. Creel surveys, which measure the fish harvest, are less frequent than surveys that measure fish population because they last longer and are more expensive.

“Creels are fairly expensive to do because it’s a yearlong thing,” he said. “It’s not something we can do more frequently. We feel that on a 10-year rotation on (Lake) Bemidji, we can kind of keep a handle on how things are changing over time.”

The Bemidji area office has hired a special temporary employee, a “creel clerk,” to conduct the survey by stationing themselves at various lake access points and asking people about their catches and how long they’ve been out on the lake. The creel clerk will also go out to fish houses to interview people, much like researchers might cover regular houses on dry land.

Barnard said the start date for the ice fishing portion of the survey depends on the ice being thick enough for researchers to walk out to anglers on the lake.

“I know there’s a little bit of fishing already,” he said. “We have to wait at least until it’s safe for our creel clerk to be out there.”

Kris Nistler, who works as creel clerk on Upper Red Lake, said in her experience almost all ice fishermen and women are perfectly happy to be interviewed.

“Trying to get them to quit talking is sometimes more of an issue,” she said with a laugh.

The Lake Bemidji survey will continue likely until March. Preliminary estimates from the survey will be out later this winter and more substantive reports will be ready by April 2014, Barnard said.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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