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Great Lakes Article:

DNR debates whether fishing rules have become too complex

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) -- Some experts in the Department of Natural Resources worry the state' s fishing regulations have become too complex.

As more of the state' s 5, 400 fishing lakes and 15, 000 miles of fishable rivers get special regulations, some anglers, conservation officers and resource managers say the complexity is starting to work against them.

Across the state, there are nine different bass length regulations, seven different length regulations for walleye and nine for pike. And more than 130 lakes and streams have their own rules governing the length of a fish that can be taken by an angler.

Fisheries biologists like the flexibility of tailoring regulations to the specific biological needs of a lake or stretch of river. Some regulations have been credited with restoring fishing on Rainy Lake, the St. Louis River and other areas.

But Ron Payer, the DNR' s director of fisheries, said the agency needs to look at standardizing regulations.

" We don' t want to go down the road toward a hodgepodge of regulations that makes it so confusing that people can' t or won' t pay attention to the regulations, " Payer said.

But simplification won' t be easy. The state' s size and varied bodies of water work against it.

And the DNR wants to make sure rules lead to improved fishing. Special regulations must force anglers to release some fish they otherwise would keep or the size and number of fish won' t improve.

Wisconsin has a broad 15-inch minimum length for walleyes. That' s simple to understand, but there' s no data that it' s done much to improve fishing, said Paul Radomski, a DNR fisheries researcher in Brainerd.

At the annual fishing roundtable last month in St. Cloud, DNR fisheries officials sought comments from resort owners, guides, anglers and conservation club leaders on fishing issues. One group discussed developing regional fishing regulations as a compromise between statewide and lake-to-lake regulations.

But that idea was poorly received because some people believe it might pit areas of the state against each other to attract anglers and tourists.

" Special regs and individual waters management may sometimes be confusing to the public, but they are showing positive results for the overall health of the fisheries, " said Butch Eggen, a guide at Crane Lake. " I believe today' s angler is informed... and willing to practice them if it shows improvement."

The DNR has an internal team looking at ways to simplify experimental regulations. It will begin work in earnest this summer and could bring its ideas to the 2003 fishing roundtable.

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