Brad Dokken: Fish or cut bait? Rewriting a story on deadline goes with the territory
My story about trapping spottail shiners on Upper Red Lake was ready to go on the page late Thursday afternoon when I got a call from Jonny Petrowske, a Waskish, Minn., minnow trapper featured in my story. Minutes earlier, he’d gotten a phone call from state Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, indicating the DNR was granting a second one-year waiver allowing hard-sided traps to be used this spring on Upper Red and Lake Winnibigoshish, another large northern Minnesota lake infested with zebra mussels.
Sometimes, you have to shift on the fly.
That was the case Thursday afternoon, when I had to completely rewrite a story about trapping spottail shiners in Upper Red Lake, the main feature story in this week’s Herald Northland Outdoors pages.
Initially, the focus of the story was a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regulation that prohibits the use of hard-sided traps to catch spottail shiners and other minnows in waters infested with zebra mussels.
Zebra mussels are notorious for clinging to hard surfaces, and hard-sided traps left in the water overnight or longer -- the thinking goes -- pose a risk for attracting zebra mussels, especially if the traps are moved from one body of water to another.
As a result, the DNR doesn’t allow hard-sided traps in zebra mussel-infested waters, instead requiring minnow harvesters to use gear such as seines or dip nets -- neither of which are particularly effective at catching spottail shiners, I’m told.
The DNR in March 2019 confirmed zebra mussels in Upper Red Lake but granted a one-year waiver to allow the use of hard-sided traps on the big lake because the news came so close to the spring shiner-trapping season.
Upper Red also is one of the state’s premier sources for spottail shiners, which typically are found in Minnesota’s largest lakes, most of which are now classified as infested with zebra mussels.
Spottail shiners are only available for a month to six weeks from mid-May through early June. And while live shiners aren’t legal baitfish in North Dakota, die-hard Minnesota walleye anglers swear by them.
Up until Thursday, it appeared the DNR was going to stand firm on its stance against allowing hard-sided traps to be used this spring in Upper Red. As my story elsewhere on this page -- or website, if you’re reading online -- indicates, shiner trappers said not allowing hard-sided traps would have been devastating to their bottom lines.
And, in turn, bait shops that rely on income from spottail shiners during the short window the popular Minnesota walleye bait is available.
Even though hard-sided minnow traps are large -- often measuring 8 feet long by 4 feet wide and 4 feet high -- and can’t be easily moved from one lake to another, there didn’t appear to be much appetite within the DNR for lake-specific gear.
The logical question, it seemed to me, was “why not?”
“I think a really good question is, ‘How would you enforce that?’” Heidi Wolf, supervisor of the DNR’s Invasive Species Unit in St. Paul, told me last week.
Apparently, someone figured out an answer to that question a few days later.
My story was ready to go on the page late Thursday afternoon when I got a call from Jonny Petrowske, a Waskish, Minn., minnow trapper featured in my story. Minutes earlier, he’d gotten a phone call from state Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, indicating the DNR was granting a second one-year waiver allowing hard-sided traps to be used this spring on Upper Red and Lake Winnibigoshish, another large northern Minnesota lake infested with zebra mussels.
DNR Assistant Commissioner Bob Meier confirmed that with me a short time later in a phone interview.
The waiver, which only applies to Upper Red and Winnie, gives the DNR and players in Minnesota’s bait industry more time to develop a statewide protocol for trapping spottail shiners and other bait in infested waters.
As long as bait harvesters play by the rules and don’t move the traps to another body of water, there shouldn’t be a problem.
A waiver allowing minnow trappers on Upper Red and Winnie to use hard-sided traps at least one more year seems like a reasonable compromise.
Even though it meant I had to completely rewrite my story on deadline.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.