Fisheries research scientists tackle the most important management problems facing fisheries managers and anglers today. Like guides, researchers assist fisheries managers in understanding the scientific unknowns to improve fishing, and effectively manage aquatic resources. Researchers conduct experiments that answer specific questions posed by managers, anglers, and academics, such as:
The work done by fisheries researchers is closely related to that done by corporate research scientists. Companies rely on research to produce effective products for the lowest possible cost. Fisheries managers rely on researchers for information on stocking, angling regulations, habitat protection, and more. Some research is long-term, such as studies now examining how 8-to 10-years of experimental angling regulations affect fish populations and fishing. Short-term research projects - such as muskellunge tracking or creel surveys -- are complete in two or three years.
The fisheries research unit has statewide responsibilities, and personnel are located at 12 different area management stations around the state with two research biologists at each station.
For the past 10 years, the research budget for the Division of Fisheries has been about 5 percent of the total division budget. On average, an additional $100,000 per year is spent on research contracts with universities to utilize faculty expertise.
In addition to work on approved projects, researchers spend about 15 percent of their time assisting management, including fieldwork, reviewing management evaluation design and final reports, providing technical advice and assistance, and providing information support at public meetings.
Findings are disseminated by presentations at area and regional manager meetings, at professional meetings, and through publication in investigational reports and in peer reviewed scientific journals. The Research Unit has published over 500 Investigational Reports and in the last 20 years over 85 Papers in Scientific Journals. These are widely cited by other researchers and scientists.
Because of recent court rulings on Indian treaty rights and the need to manage differently, it has been necessary to develop new methods to effectively estimate fish populations and to set safe fish harvest levels in individual waters such as Mille Lacs Lake, or other groups of waters. The Research Unit has been heavily involved in this work.
Thanks to research conducted over the past 25 years, and the help of conservation groups such as Muskies, Inc., muskie anglers have twice as many waters to fish as they did two decades ago, and they have a far greater chance of catching a trophy-sized muskie.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, researchers followed electronically tagged muskies to learn where they spawned in Leech Lake, and how shoreline alterations affected spawning habitat. Other studies showed that muskies thrive in large lakes that contain relatively few northern pike, lots of forage fish such as tullibee, and suitable spawning habitat.
In the 1980s, researchers learned that the Leech Lake strain of muskie survived better and grew larger than other strains. Fisheries managers used this information to direct new stockings of the Leech Lake strain to waters where muskies had the best chance of thriving.
Over the past two decades, muskie research has helped us double the number of lakes containing muskies from 40 to 80, and to provide anglers, especially those fishing Twin Cities Metro Region muskie waters, with more opportunities to catch trophy muskies.