One fish, any species, any size

It’s time to rethink fish limits.
Long past time, in fact.
The current model for fishing limits is a century old, and times have changed too much to keep tinkering with an outmoded system.
The old six-fish limit of my youth was based on the collective memory of the mighty hunter setting forth into the wilderness to bring back nature’s bounty for the family.
Back then, people still remembered when fishing and hunting were required to supplement their diet. Families were larger, and most members were busy working. Dad or Grandpa could occasionally be spared long enough to bring back a mess of protein for the extended family.
That reality is long gone, and it’s time to stop tweaking regulations that are based on the nostalgia of a dying breed of men.
The population of the state has doubled since the early days of fishing regulations, and anglers now have the benefit of technologies that increase the pressure on fish. Here at Mille Lacs the resource is shared with Ojibwe tribes, further complicating the situation and threatening the resource.
Bottom line: The four-fish limit needs to be relegated to history’s dustbin — and not just at Mille Lacs, but throughout the state.
This may sound crazy, since angling is so steeped in tradition, but there is simply no reason why any sport angler needs to keep more than one fish per day of significant gamefish species.
Why not two? Because that’s not a drastic enough change to significantly affect fish harvests. Few anglers keep limits, but many keep two.
Besides, one fish can feed one person — or more if it’s big enough — and no angler in this day and age needs to bring home enough for the family. If the rest of the family wants fish, they should go fishing.
That’s my proposal: One fish, any species, any size. I don’t have the numbers to crunch, and couldn’t crunch them anyway, but I’d bet fishery management would be far simpler and equally effective.
Larger limits could be kept in place for rough fish or small panfish. Culling would be illegal. Other kinks would be easy to work out.
If we can change our attitudes on limits, we can also change our attitudes on seasons. That is, when a given allocation for a species is reached, as could happen in a hot year on Mille Lacs, we all agree to shut ‘er down and target other species.
It would not be the end of the world, because we’d all be on board with a more reasonable approach to sport fishing harvests — not stuck in some fantasy of the past.
Fishing today is primarily for sport, not sustenance. We can all agree that most anglers will never pay for their boats and gear with savings on food.
We should also acknowledge this reality: Even though the limits in Minnesota are possession limits, many anglers treat them as bag limits and stock up.
In fact, when I first came to Mille Lacs as a reporter, I assumed limits were daily bag limits and anglers could keep an unlimited number of filets in their freezer. I thought that because I had seen it happen. (It was a moot point for me, since I couldn’t catch a limit to save my life.)
I know what some of you are thinking: Why should we have to embrace extreme measures when tribal members can keep dozens or hundreds of fish? My answer: Forget about it. Don’t worry about what you have no control over.
Instead, spend your time advocating for a sane alternative — not an extreme one — to our ancient, outmoded regulations: One fish, any species, any size.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.
This column was published in the Mille Lacs Messenger on Aug. 22, 2012.


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