Long-range plan for muskellunge and large northern pike

The purpose of this plan is to guide fisheries management of muskellunge and northern pike in Minnesota for the next 12 years. Our management goals are to improve opportunities for trophy muskellunge and large northern pike, while also providing opportunities to harvest northern pike. This plan builds on the foundation of previous long range plans (MNDNR 1986, 1994) and incorporates the latest research and management experience.

Fisheries management of Minnesota's lakes, rivers, and streams is based on public input as well as an understanding of fish communities and the best available science. While this plan emphasizes muskellunge and northern pike management, the Section of Fisheries Management's mission statement is "to conserve and manage Minnesota's aquatic resources and associated fish communities for their intrinsic values and long term ecological, commercial, and recreational benefits to the people of Minnesota." The long range plan does not identify specific waters for muskellunge expansion or changes in northern pike regulations, and therefore does not address specific concerns for individual lakes. The plan describes reasonable goals and objectives, provides detailed information on the biology and management of these species, and describes a process for obtaining further public input and internal review for specific changes in management.

The plan was developed with input from angling interests, including six workshops, two roundtables, and public comment through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website. This plan includes specific goals, objectives, strategies and actions for managing trophy muskellunge populations (including tiger muskellunge), improving opportunities for large northern pike on select waters, and improving northern pike fishing statewide, while also maintaining opportunities for harvest and spearing of northern pike. However, the desire by anglers to harvest medium and large northern pike conflicts with improving the opportunities to catch large northern pike. Similarly, the desire by anglers to expand the number of waters managed for muskellunge conflicts with those who oppose expanding.

There continues to be strong interest in large northern pike and a growing interest in muskellunge angling. A recent survey estimated that 14% of resident, licensed anglers target muskellunge when angling (Schroeder et al. 2007), with another 18% of non-muskellunge anglers moderately or very interested in fishing for muskellunge. While the interest in muskellunge angling appears to be growing, the opportunities are limited. Currently 116 waters (including Lake of the Woods) are managed for muskellunge and hybrid (tiger) muskellunge totaling about 790,000 acres (Appendix A), which represents about 35% of accessible lake acreage in Minnesota. Of these, 95 are managed as pure strain waters, and 21 waters are managed with hybrid muskellunge in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. The 95 pure strain waters include 44 lakes or lake systems and 8 rivers that are considered native waters and 43 waters where muskellunge were introduced and maintained through stocking (Figures 2-4 and Appendix A).

Northern pike populations are found in 3,351 waters throughout the state, including border waters. This represents about 2.17 million acres (MNDNR Lake Survey Data) or about 95% of accessible lake acreage in Minnesota. Currently 106 waters, totaling about 675,111 acres (about 29.5% of the total) are managed with experimental or special regulations intended to improve northern pike size structure and improve the opportunity to catch large pike (Figure 5, and Appendix D). These include four of Minnesota's 10 large lakes, which comprise about 520,000 of the 675,111 acres.

The following summarizes the recommendations. The supporting information, analysis, and operational needs are described in the long-range plan.

Recommendations for Muskellunge

  • Increase pure strain muskellunge opportunities by up to eight additional waters for a total of 103 pure strain waters (does not include hybrid muskellunge), by the year 2020. Candidate lakes will be geographically distributed, approximately two per DNR administrative region based on described ecological criteria, trophy potential and social considerations developed through a public participation process.
  • Manage muskellunge populations for "trophy" angling opportunities through stocking, size regulations, season closures, existing spearing bans, and promoting voluntary catch and release.
  • Conduct spring population assessments that include mark and recapture population estimates to evaluate stocking effectiveness and population status.
  • Continue to monitor and evaluate muskellunge management and the associated fish communities through standard lake surveys and special sampling, and communicate results of evaluations with the public.
  • Evaluate the capacity of public and private production to meet management needs. Identify additional capacity if necessary to maintain program objectives.
  • Evaluate the number of lakes managed with tiger muskellunge and potential to discontinue their management or substitute pure strain muskellunge in select metro area lakes.
  • Increase public awareness of the role the muskellunge within fish communities.

Recommendations for Northern Pike

  • Improve angling opportunities and population size structure through regulations to reduce the annual harvest of large pike.
  • Continue to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the current experimental and special regulations, currently 106 waters, through netting and creel surveys, and communicate results of evaluations with the public.
  • Consider managing up to 125 lakes statewide with regulations intended to improve size structure.
  • Conduct research to evaluate management and inform future decisions.
  • Increase public awareness of importance of large pike to fish communities.

Recommendations for Spearing

  • Continue to provide opportunities to spear northern pike.

Information

The Department greatly appreciated the considerable input received during plan development. We heard from many people and groups regarding their perspectives about the long range plan for muskellunge and large northern pike. DNR staff reviewed comments. The final plan is posted below.