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McFeely: Anti-muskie forces win costly victory in MN

Andrew Judnick of Virginia holds a 48-inch muskie he caught on Lake Vermilion during the Professional Musky Tournament Trail fishing contest on Lake Vermilion on Aug. 8, 2015. He fell in the water trying to help his dad, Robert Judnick, net the fish. Andrew Judnick / Duluth News Tribune.

FARGO—The Pelican Lake Property Owners Association was nearly $12,500 in the red for 2015, according to a financial report posted on its website. This deficit appears to be attributable to one line item sprinkled among the everyday mundane expenses like trash removal, Internet fees and insurance. The association spent $16,574.20 on what is deemed "muskie issues."

Without muskie issues, the PLPOA actually finished a few thousand dollars ahead for year. But muskie issues can get expensive, particularly when lawyers become involved. You may recall the PLPOA brought a lawsuit late last year to stop the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources from continuing to place muskellunge in Pelican Lake, where the big fish have been stocked for nearly 40 years.

With highly motivated Pelican Lake resident Dave Majkrzak leading the charge, the anti-muskie forces lost that battle. The DNR put 831 muskies about the size of an adult's finger in November.

But did they win the war?

It appears so.

The DNR announced Monday it was going ahead with muskie stocking plans on Gull Lake near Brainerd and the Fairmont chain of lakes in southern Minnesota—but was withdrawing its proposal to stock Franklin, Lizzie or Loon lakes in Otter Tail County. The DNR and fishing clubs like the Fargo-Moorhead chapter of Muskies Inc. advocated stocking one more lake in west central Minnesota to provide additional angling opportunities for the potential trophy fish.

When asked why the state decided to back off stocking muskies in a new Otter Tail County lake, DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira said, "The social pushback. We do have to listen to the public. While we did have some support up there, there was some really focused opposition."

Was the political and legal activity surrounding the Pelican Lake fight a factor in the battle over the other lakes?

"Honestly, it's hard to separate the two," Pereira said. "Many of the same cast of characters are involved."

Pereira wouldn't name names—he's smarter than that—but you can be sure Majkrzak is one of the characters. It's likely, too, that state legislators like Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria and Rep. Bud Nornes from Fergus Falls would be among the common characters. Ingebrigtsen , particularly, was vocal in the last legislative session about forwarding a bill that would've prevented the DNR from putting muskies in any new lakes in the state. He lost that battle—the bill died—but again perhaps won the war.

There is a major lesson to be learned here, and it isn't a good one.

Science doesn't matter when it comes to a political fight over fish. Money, lobbying and political clout appear much more important.

The DNR answered every silly concern about muskies eating all the walleyes in a lake (they don't) or attacking swimmers (they don't). Yet the shrill voices were able to get a powerful politician or two on their side and keep pushing the negative narrative about muskies. It worked.

"I am a bit disappointed to learn that one of the lakes in Otter Tail County will not be stocked with muskies and that plan will be eliminated," said Brett Waldera, president of Fargo-Moorhead Muskies Inc. "I believe there was significant anti-muskie push by an individual or two ... that swayed the general public toward a negative stance during the public opinion process. It was due primarily to misinformation being spread about muskies and their management."

On the positive side, the busybodies on the Pelican Lake association spent $16,000 and they still have wonderful muskies in their lake. Property owners who oppose muskies on Franklin, Lizzie and Loon should buy Majkrzak and his buddies a beer. They did the heavy lifting, and check-writing, to keep those lakes muskie-free.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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