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DNR to stock muskies in Gull chain near Brainerd

This undated file photo from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows muskie young being stocked into a state lake.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on Monday announced it was moving forward with stocking muskellunge in several lakes but withdrawing plans to stock in others.

Following public feedback, the DNR said it would go forward with stocking the Gull Chain of lakes near Brainerd and the Fairmont chain of lakes in southern Minnesota, but curtail stocking plans in Big Marine Lake in Washington County as well as Franklin, Lizzie and Loon lakes in Otter Tail County.

The proposed list of lakes had earlier sparked vehement opposition, including a bill in the Minnesota Legislature that would specifically prohibit the DNR from stocking muskies in all six lakes/lake chains. The provision was passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives as part of an overall game and fish bill, which ultimately failed amid the end-of-session chaos.

Opponents fear introducing muskies will damage other game fish populations, but the DNR's position is that those fears don't hold water and creating muskie populations will attract more anglers to lakes as muskie fishing becomes more popular.

During a phone press conference, DNR Fisheries chief Don Pereira said with muskie stocking specifically and with DNR proposals in general, it was the opponents rather than the supporters that were the most vocal.

"You have a tendency to hear more from the detractors than the folks who support a program," he said.

In the future, the DNR should try to get more people who support stocking to come forward and add their voices to the discussion, he said.

The DNR fielded 1,800 comments online about the stocking, Pereira said, and about 60 percent of the comments were "pretty much in favor."

Pereira said the biological situation in Big Marine wasn't amenable to stocking because the lake might have suffered a lack of forage species if the muskies combined with big walleye. The DNR would continue to monitor Big Marine, he said. There were instances of muskies preying on northern pike, but the evidence for muskie suppression of pike was "largely anecdotal," Pereira said.

For the Otter Tail County lakes, it was public and political pushback that discouraged the DNR.

"It just wasn't the best time right now, given the interactions we've had with numerous stakeholders and elected officials," he said.

Pereira said it was hard to say whether there would be more legislative pushback from state lawmakers on the muskie stocking plan, but that the DNR would continue to work with legislators and local officials.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr approved of the two lakes to be stocked, and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton was fully briefed on the details about the stocking decision, Pereira said.

The Gull chain was the most promising water body on the list for a muskie stocking program, Pereira said.

"Biologically, it's the best proposal," he said. "That lake has the potential to be an outstanding muskie fishery, and still be a very, very good walleye and northern pike fishery as well."

He characterized the interactions between the DNR and local governments in the area around the Gull chain to be "fairly positive."

Not everyone around Gull Lake and its adjoining lakes was in Pereira's boat, however.

"To me it's another example of government overreach,'' Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, told the Star Tribune. "Our own government is superseding the majority will of the people around here.''

Anderson authored the anti-stocking language that was including in the game and fish bill.

The DNR's long-term plan calls for eight lakes to be stocked by 2020. Roosevelt Lake in Outing, Pokegama Lake in Grand Rapids and the Sauk River chain of lakes have already seen new muskie populations introduced. Three lakes remain to be chosen.