In 2020, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) implemented a new program called the Quality Sunfish Initiative or QSI. QSI is the result of an angler-driven concern over the declining size of sunfish in Minnesota lakes. In an angler questionnaire, a majority of anglers indicated that they were in favor of implementing special regulations in an attempt to maintain or improve sunfish populations. MN DNR biologists evaluated existing special regulations and determined that lowering daily bag limits can produce quality Sunfish. Angler harvest is frequently the most important factor affecting sunfish size, and in most cases, if anglers want larger sunfish, they need to keep fewer. The prevalent use of electronic fish finders and other technological advancements combined with rapid social media communication also heightened those concerns.
Biologists identified and proposed over 100 lakes statewide with the potential to produce quality-sized sunfish on a consistent basis. Some of these lakes already had quality-sized Sunfish, so the objective for those lakes was to be able to maintain them. After a period of public input, the DNR received over 3,700 comments about the QSI and the proposed lakes. Over 85% of the respondents supported the initiative.
Ninety-four lakes were chosen statewide as part of the QSI. The new special regulations on these select lakes include one of two options: 1) A daily bag limit of five sunfish; 2) A daily bag limit of 10 sunfish. The new limits are daily limits as opposed to possession limits, which means an angler can only harvest the prescribed number of Sunfish per day from a lake in the QSI, but they could return the next day for another limit as long as they don’t exceed the statewide possession limit. These new daily bag limit reductions went into effect on March 1st, 2021. On March 1, 2022, an additional seventy-one lakes statewide were included as part of the QSI initiative, bringing the total number of lakes statewide with reduced daily bag limits to 225. No new lakes will be added to the initiative for the next 10 years.
Reduced daily bag limits for sunfish have been implemented on 23 lakes in Otter Tail County. Fisheries Biologists from the Fergus Falls Area DNR office identified these lakes based on a number of biological variables. Biologists analyzed lake specific Sunfish abundance, size structure, reproduction and growth rates to select lakes that presently possess or have historically produced quality sunfish populations. Public comment was also collected for these lakes.
Otter Tail County Lakes with a five sunfish daily bag limit include: West Silent, Franklin, Bass, Middle, Annie Battle, Norway, Fish by Weetown, and Fish by Parkers Prairie. Lakes with a ten sunfish daily bag limit include: East Lost, West Lost, Deer, Wall, Red River, Prairie, Stuart, Crystal, Fladmark, Twenty-One, North Lida, South Lida, Venstrom, Star and Long by Vergas. The statewide possession limit for sunfish still applies for these lakes. Fisheries biologists will evaluate the Sunfish populations in these lakes over the next ten years to determine the effectiveness of the new regulations.
Anglers fishing statewide for sunfish this year should check the 2022 fishing regulations booklet and public water access signs to determine which lakes have reduced daily bag limits.
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