Sunfish anglers will need to closely check the 2021 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet and signs at water accesses for new sunfish limits that are now in effect on 94 waters.
The new regulations lower limits on specific waters as part of a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources initiative to protect and improve sunfish sizes. These changes are in response to angler-driven concerns over the declining sizes of sunfish in Minnesota.
“Robust public input and support helped us move forward with the Quality Sunfish Initiative. We had more than 3,700 comments and over 85% of them were in favor of trying to improve sunfish sizes,” said Dave Weitzel, Grand Rapids area fisheries supervisor. “It’s clear Minnesota anglers treasure sunfish and want to make sure we have lots of large sunfish in our lakes.”
The new regulations only modify daily limits on the affected waterbodies. Anglers can only keep the prescribed number of fish per day from the water but can return the next day for another limit as long as they don’t exceed the statewide inland water possession limit of 20 sunfish per angler.
The new sunfish regulations only include inland waters of Minnesota. Specifically, 44 waters will have a new daily limit of five sunfish, 31 will have a limit of 10 sunfish, 17 will have a limit of five sunfish and five crappie, and two will have a limit of 10 sunfish and five crappies.
In addition to the new waters, there are 57 waters that previously had reduced limits for sunfish and these regulations remain in effect.
“We’ve evaluated previous special sunfish regulations and found that reducing harvest can indeed produce large sunfish,” Weitzel said. “Sunfish grow slowly—about an inch per year—so a large sunfish can be more than a decade old. It’s critical to protect these large fish from excessive harvest because they aren’t easily replaced.”
Sunfish spawn in large nesting colonies during the spring and early summer. Parental male sunfish build and defend nests. Females will select a male, lay eggs, and leave the eggs for the male to protect and fan with his fins. These nest-building male sunfish play an important role in repopulation, with the largest sunfish often getting the best spawning sites.
When anglers keep the largest sunfish, the remaining small males don’t need to compete with larger males to spawn. Once the larger males are gone, the smaller males devote less energy to growing. Instead, they devote energy to spawning at younger ages and smaller sizes.
Minnesota fishing regulations use sunfish as the generic name for bluegill, pumpkinseed, green sunfish, orange-spotted sunfish, longear, warmouth and their hybrids. More about sunfish biology and the Quality Sunfish Initiative is available on the DNR website.
Other new regulations
Other fishing regulation changes in the 2021 regulations book include new experimental regulations on Island Lake Reservoir near Duluth. On this lake, which has abundant but very small walleye, fisheries managers aim to increase the size of walleye by increasing the possession limit and applying a protective slot limit.
New experimental lake trout regulations also are being implemented in Yawkey, Sagamore, Pennington and Mahnomen lakes. These mine pit lakes in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area have the potential to support naturally reproducing lake trout populations. Anglers there will be limited to harvesting one lake trout, which must be more than 20 inches, from each water.
Experimental regulations mean that the regulation is temporary. Fisheries managers must then evaluate the regulation to determine whether it had the intended effect, usually after 10 years.
The 2021 Minnesota fishing regulations are available online and anywhere Minnesota fishing licenses are sold. The new sunfish regulations are found in the special regulations that begin on page 38 of the booklet.