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Lower sunfish limits in place locally, across Minnesota after Quality Sunfish Initiative receives huge public support

Douglas Count lakes Irene, Whiskey and Osakis all have lower sunfish limits now after being identified as waters that should be able to grow big sunfish by reducing daily limits during the Minnesota DNR's Quality Sunfish Initiative that drew widespread public support in 2020.

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A total of 94 Minnesota waters have new special regulations now in effect with lower daily sunfish limits that are in place to try to grow bigger sunfish in the selected lakes across the state. (File photo)

The Minnesota DNR asked for public input in 2020 on a Quality Sunfish Initiative aimed at trying to increase the number of large sunfish in many of the state’s waters that have been targeted as having the potential to produce those fish.

As a result, 94 of Minnesota’s inland waters now have new sunfish limits as part of their special regulations this year. The new regulations will lower sunfish limits on these lakes to protect more big fish in the system after the DNR said anglers raised concerns over the declining size of sunfish in Minnesota waters.

“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.”

Lakes in and around the Douglas County area that are impacted by these changes are:

  • Irene Lake (Douglas County) -- daily limit of 10 sunfish

  • Whiskey Lake (Douglas County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Lake Osakis (Douglas and Todd County) -- daily limit of 10 sunfish

  • Beauty Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Buck Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Cedar Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Lady Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Lily Lake and connected Long Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Little Sauk Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Mary Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Moose Lake (Todd County) -- daily limit of 5 sunfish

  • Gilchrist Lake (Pope County) -- daily limit of 10 sunfish

  • Grove Lake (Pope County) -- daily limit of 10 sunfish

Special regulations on all Minnesota lakes that are impacted can be found on page 38 of the 2021 Minnesota Fishing Regulations booklet.

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The 10-fish bag limit applies to lakes where the goal is to maintain current populations of large sunfish. The 5-fish bag limit applies to lakes where the desire to increase sunfish size quality.

On any lake, anglers can voluntarily help protect big sunfish by releasing or limiting their harvest of large sunfish, which are typically considered about eight inches or bigger.

In spring and early summer, sunfish nest in large colonies. Male sunfish compete for the best spawning sites in a lake. Only the largest sunfish build and defend nests. When anglers keep the largest sunfish, competition for spawning decreases and there is less need for smaller males to devote energy to grow larger.

Instead, with a lack of spawning competition, they devote more energy to spawning at younger ages and smaller sizes. In lakes where large sunfish become overharvested, sunfish may not grow as fast as they once did.

The new regulations for 2021 modify only the daily limits on these waters. Anglers can catch a limit and return the next day to catch another as long as they do not exceed the statewide inland-water possession limit of 20 sunfish per angler.

Statewide, 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. 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.”

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 .

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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