Catfish Workgroup meetings are sometimes held at an onsite location. After meeting for 3 hours or so they break up the business meeting and go catfishing.
Citizen Input Promotes Catfish Conservation
by Ron Presley
A major benefit of workgroup activity is the trust built between citizen anglers and fishery regulators.
The catfishing industry continues to grow and along with that growth comes problems and opportunities related to conservation. Many catfish anglers agree that the increasing skill levels of anglers, improved methods of fishing, and more anglers chasing the whisker fish will put pressure on the population of trophy catfish.
Tournaments have been a major source of industry growth. And now they are a major source of support and promotion of catfish conservation and regulation. Since tournament rules are based on state regulations more and more tournament directors are pushing for strong trophy catfish regulations and more and more individual anglers are joining them.
Whether fish are caught for sport or the dinner table strong regulations benefit all the catfish anglers. Minnesota is one state that recognizes the importance of catfish and regularly uses citizen anglers as advisers to the DNR staff.
One of the latest appointees to the workgroup is Christina Lemke. She grew up fishing in Minnesota waters and has continued to pursue the sport. Her interest in the sport, catfishing especially, has led her to share her passion with others and join the fight for strong regulations.
“I’ve done a lot of volunteering over the past 5 years,” offered Lemke. “I’ve worked booths at outdoor shows, taken disabled people fishing, and volunteered for youth fishing events. I find it very rewarding to share my knowledge and passion for the sport that I grew up doing as a way of life.”
Several years ago Lemke was approached by Brian Klawitter (Red Wing Bald Eagle Tours) to join the Catfish Work Group of the Minnesota DNR. She didn’t feel ready to accept the opening at that time but time has changed that and another opportunity arose in 2021.
“I’m probably newer to the catfish scene than some of the other work group members,” stated Lemke. “But I continue to study catfish and learn about them. I have been testing the waters to see if becoming a full- or part-time guide would be something I would like. I am very honored to accept a 3-year membership to work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on the Catfish Work Group.”
Her willingness to share and volunteer will serve her and the state of Minnesota well. There is nothing more important than a good work ethic and an open mind to add value to the work of the DNR.
“More than ever, people are outdoors,” continued Lemke. “As the popularity of catfishing has exploded it just makes sense for me to become more involved. People ask me what goals I have for the industry—well honestly I don’t have a particular set of issues. I know that I’d love to help educate and share my passion and adventures in any way that would help.”
Just as Lemke is willing and able to share, the DNR is happy to have anglers like her serve in ways that help them advance the sport of catfishing.
“Christina’s role would be the same as any member on the Workgroup,” acknowledged Jack Lauer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Southern Regional Fisheries Manager. “We really appreciate people like her stepping up and participating. The more energy members put into the Workgroup, the better we hope to maintain a quality catfishery in Minnesota.”
Lauer went on to explain that the MN DNR –Section of Fisheries has four other fish species citizen Workgroups in addition to catfish. Each Workgroup consists of 10-15 citizens and DNR staff participants, as needed. Citizen participants serve in a volunteer capacity and may select a term of either two or three years.
“I chair the Catfish Workgroup,” explained Lauer. “We host a series of focused Catfish Workgroup meetings about 2-4 times each year. Topics are open to a wide range of Catfish issues from science-research, population management, public access, and regulations.”
These meetings provide the opportunity for citizen members to have deeper discussions to learn more about catfish populations in Minnesota and discuss issues about angling and the conservation of natural resources. A major benefit of the Workgroup is the trust built between the agency and anglers through transparency and dialogue. The format fosters ideas that will potentially improve policy, angling opportunity, and species management.
“Some of the issues identified became accomplishments,” recalled Lauer. “Rule and regulation changes such as Flathead Catfish winter season closure-protection, cast net permits for Gizzard Shad, and uncoupling the Channel and Flathead possession regulations in Minnesota.”
“The two major issues that remain as a priority for the Catfish Workgroup members are additional bait options and two-lines on inland waters,” added Lauer.
Lemke recognized an issue that exists in many parts of the county when a body of water separates two or more states. Often the catfish regulations in one state don’t match the regs in another.
“On the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River anglers can use 2 fishing lines per person,” informed Lemke. “On the Wisconsin side, anglers can use 3 fishing lines per person. It’s the same water but regulated by two different states.”
When different regulations exist in the same body of water it can be confusing to anglers. Lemke is a proponent of states working together on regulations like the number of lines, bag limits, and size restrictions so they are more consistent on the same body of water.
“I am flattered that my name came up and I’m extremely excited to work with the DNR,” concluded Lemke. “I have a lot to learn. It seems that 2 lines, cast nets, and bait are always on the agenda and there are other important things to be addressed. All of it is very intriguing to me.”
Lauer and the DNR look forward to the input from the citizen anglers. They cite many ways they expect the Catfish Workgroup to help.
“Workgroup members can provide the MN DNR insight on actual catfish activity across Minnesota waterways,” affirmed Lauer. “They can provide angler-creel survey catch information, support educational and research efforts on catfish, look for ways to protect and improve the great fishing opportunities we have in Minnesota, and share social media information that can benefit the resource and educate the public and policy-makers.”
The combined efforts of resource managers and interested citizen anglers, as fostered by the DNR work groups, help move regulation, protection, and care of trophy catfish populations in the right direction.