Outside in MN

It’s not just about the walleyes: Celebrating native rough fish species

a man holds a fish next to a stream
Tyler Winter with a shorthead redhorse, a native rough fish in Minnesota.
Courtesy of Tyler Winter

While thousands of Minnesota anglers chase walleye during Saturday’s fishing season opener, a much smaller group will be celebrating less popular species.

The annual Root River Roundup in southeastern Minnesota is expected to attract about 100 anglers who will be focused on catching redhorse suckers.

“It’s going to be a big celebration,” said native rough fish advocate Tyler Winter, a founding member of Native Fish for Tomorrow.

This year’s event will mark the passage of a new state law designed to help protect 23 native rough fish species like redhorse or buffalo.

“There’s still work to be done on creating restitution values, creating limits, making sure that our limits are enforceable,” said Winter. “But this was a huge leap forward. And I believe we’re leading the nation.”

The new definition of native rough fish required changes in about 60 Minnesota statutes.

For more than 100 years, native rough fish species were defined along with invasive species like common carp simply as rough fish, not worthy of protection or management.

The new law separates native species from invasive species and sets the stage for Department of Natural Resources (DNR) management of native rough fish species.

“It brings some recognition, some long overdue recognition, to these native species as part of our natural heritage,” DNR fisheries populations and regulations manager Shannon Fisher told lawmakers at a committee hearing earlier this year.

“The change also elevates the status of these species, implying that these species belong here, have value, and should be part of ongoing fisheries management,” Fisher said.

Researcher Alec Lackmann lifts a bigmouth buffalo fish
Researcher Alec Lackmann lifts a bigmouth buffalo fish that was shot by bow fisher Vern Bachmann in 2019 on Crystal Lake near Dunvilla.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

Because there have been no limits on rough fish, some species have been caught in large numbers and dumped in fields or along streams.

Winter said the new law provide protection for those species but he also hopes it will encourage more anglers will pay attention to native rough fish species.

“These fish are accessible to anybody. Most of them live in rivers,” said Winter. “And I don’t need a boat, I don’t need electronics, I don’t need fancy lures or anything.”

The Minnesota DNR will now begin the process of setting regulations and bag limits for many historically unprotected native rough fish species.

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