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February 2, 2010 Update for fishing guides, resort owners and operators of commercial "for hire" watercraft.

This is an update about the US Coast Guard "Six Pack Captain License" Requirements for Navigable Waters in Minnesota. Use this link view the license requirements. On the US Coast Guard Website click on "Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) or “6-Pack” License". Jeff Sundin, 2-2-2010

There's been a lot of chatter among fishing guides and resort owners about what's going to happen in Northern Minnesota with the "Coast Guard Six Pack Licensing" of fishing guides on inland lakes. Rumors about which lakes are included and which guides need to be licensed are getting confusing and even though I've been doing my best to follow what's going on, I hadn't heard a clear and final answer. I've been trying not to make things worse by spreading more rumors, but today I do have some facts to share that lots of you will be interested in.

First, for many guides and charter captains this issue was settled long ago. In our area, lakes that border Canada like Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Superior and others are already specifically written into the federal law and are included in the "Six Pack" licensing requirements no matter what happens with the inland lakes. Likewise "Federal Waterways" all over the United States like the Mississippi River that allow you to move from one state to another are covered as well. If you fish on these waters for hire, you need this license and this isn't likely to change.

The problem for many of us is that we've been struggling to figure out which of Minnesota's inland lakes are supposed to be included in the "six pack" licensing requirements. There has been a lot of gray area because lists of lakes that the Coast Guard defines as "navigable waters" haven't been easy to find and the lists that are out there don't always match. To make matters even more confusing, part of Minnesota is under the Jurisdiction of the Coast Guard's 8th District and reports to an Admiral in New Orleans, LA and the rest of Minnesota is under the jurisdiction of the 9th district that reports to an Admiral in Cleveland, Ohio. This partially explains some of the confusion, about which lake list is which. It also explains the differences of opinion about so called “official information” because what we learn from one district might not apply to the other.

These links should help clear up some of the confusion. They will take you to the Official Lists of Minnesota Lakes as defined by the US Coast Guard and are accurate as of February 1, 2010. There are two lists, on the Coast Guard website the first is labeled "Minnesota" and the links is the second is labeled "Minnesota Supplement", Check them both to determine if your lake(s) are included. It’s helpful to know which district you’re in, but whichever district it is, if your lake is on either of these lists, you are included.

For many guides and resort owners, the biggest concern has been that the federal "six pack" license appears to be severe overkill for someone operating 16 to 20 foot boats on small inland lakes. Some waters could be included in the list because they are technically connected to one of the federal watersheds. But it's hard for many to see the connection between fishing on a relatively small lake like Winnibigoshish and operating on Lake Superior or even coastal waters on the oceans. Confusion about why certain lakes are listed stems in part from the fact that some of these laws have been on the books so long that some of the lakes that actually were Federal Waterways when the laws were written, don't really fit that description now. For example, Lake Vermilion was once an official international transportation route and part of the Lewis and Clark trail. Many other waters that come to mind could have been major transportation routes a hundred years ago and nothing more than nice little fishing spots today. Some of the waters that are considered "navigable waters" by the Federal Government don't make sense, but are nevertheless on the list.

Another complication is the scope of these regulations. We tend to see what affects us, so it's only natural to focus on waters within our home area. But for the Coast Guard, any proposed changes that could be implemented would have to cover navigable waters nation wide. In a nutshell, no matter how silly it seems to us that some of these lakes could be listed, we are dealing with Federal Law and "one size fits all policies". Pardon the pun, but that's a big boat to turn around so I wouldn't expect to see many changes to these lists.

Here's what could change for those of us in Northern Minnesota who operate mainly on the smaller, inland lakes.

According to Peter Makowski at the Chisholm, MN office of US Congressman, Jim Oberstar, the Coast Guard 9th District has already submitted a proposal to the US Coast Guard in Washington DC. The full details of this proposal are not known (to me), but to sum it up, for guides, resort owners and other commercial operators in certain areas, licensing will still be required, but if enacted, the scope of the license would be more localized. For example, a license requiring less stringent study and testing requirements and applies more closely to the conditions found on and around smaller inland waters could be issued to guides for their home lake or territory. The lesser version of the license would be valid within that home territory but this license would not be valid on waters covered by the more stringent, federal "six-pack" requirements.

I contacted the Coast Guard's 9th District, Marine Safety Unit in Duluth, MN and Lt. Aaron Gross confirmed that there is a proposal to produce an alternative licensing procedure and that it has been introduced to the Coast Guard in Washington DC. But, at the time of our conversation, there is no indication of whether or not the federal government might adopt the proposal. Lt. Gross added that even if the proposed changes to the license were to be adopted, license holders would still be required to obtain the Transportation Workers Identification Card (TWIC), obtain CPR & first aid training and undergo the required physical, drug and alcohol testing. So for commercial operators who find their lake(s) on these lists, you can learn about the TWIC process by checking this link to the US Transportation Security Administration.

According to Lt. Gross, the Coast Guard did not propose any changes about the TWIC requirement. But According to an update from Con. Oberstar's Office on February 3rd, Makowski said that "the House of Representatives (has) passed the Coast Guard Re-Authorization Legislation. Within this legislation is a provision which would eliminate the TWIC requirement for the Six Pack folks. This provision was put into the bill by Congressman Oberstar because of concerns raised by the Six Pack operators. If the Senate passes the Coast Guard legislation and President Obama signs it, then this concern will be cleared up."

Lt. Gross did provide this official statement from the Coast Guard.
"Based on the initial public feedback the Coast Guard has received concerning OUPV licensing issues, we are looking at various options to help ease the burdens of the licensing process for Minnesota OUPV operators while at the same time maintaining acceptable standards for safe operation. However, until a decision has been made on which options will best help ensure safety on Minnesota's waterways, we are temporarily postponing meetings to discuss this. It is our desire to work as quickly as possible on these new options and schedule meetings to re-engage discussion and pass substantive licensing information to interested parties. Again, we intend to work as quickly as possible on this.
Our primary goal is to develop viable and sustainable partnerships with vessel operators, local businesses, resorts, local and state law enforcement agencies and other local stakeholders as part of the effort to educate and inform all parties concerned and to pave the way for a smooth transition from education to compliance.
For now, operators not in compliance with applicable standards may be allowed to continue operations, provided they are making strides toward gaining regulatory compliance AND their vessels and operations are not considered hazardous."

What this all means for many of us is that if your lake(s) are on either of these lists, testing for some version of the license is going to be required. The only question remaining is which version of the license we'll need and how soon we'll need to obtain it. In the mean time, recommendations from both, Makowski and Gross are that guides and commercial operators who do not operate on border lakes or known federal waterways should temporarily hold off on attempting to test for the six pack license until an announcement about the alternative license has been made.

What should you do in the meantime? Use these links provided by the Coast Guard to make sure you know which Coast Guard jurisdiction you are in and check the lists for lakes within your district. If the lakes you operate on are included, the best way of preparing to meet the requirements will be to familiarize yourself with the TWIC requirements and start looking into the timeline for getting the needed training. Be careful to understand the timing though because some of the pre-requisites for applying for the "Captains" license are time sensitive.

Updates to this article will be added whenever there is new information so check beck from time to time. If you have questions along the way, email me and I will try to help. Jeff Sundin, 2-2-2010

Walleye Bag Limit Reduction 2008 Original Post by Jeff Sundin 3-6-08

Well folks, I just came home from a meeting of Walleye enthusiasts who were originally formed in 2005 as the "Walleye Advisory Council", now more casually referred to by the DNR as a "Walleye Workshop". Something about the term "advisory" must not sit well with the folks who organize these meetings, but that's a story we'll go into another time.

Most of the agenda items are things you'd expect to hear about, Walleye stocking plans, fishing seasons, tourism, bag limits and lots of statistics and charts. But wait, hold on a minute...Bag Limits? Where's the chart? What happened to the statistics?

Apparently the proposed statewide Walleye bag limit reduction from six Walleye to four is being brought about because it's "time for change". No charts, no statistics, just whistle three times as you roll through the train crossing and it's all over. No public hearing process, no public meetings. You see, none of the normal rules apply because this change is being introduced through the legislative process instead of "officially" through the DNR.

Based on polling in a couple of popular metro area publications, anglers appear to support the legislation. The problem is that the polls are based on opinions of what I'm calling "elite anglers", the ones who devote enough time and resources to learn how to actually catch six Walleyes. Most folks who visit Minnesota don't fall into that category and for them, a reduction in the bag limit is a signal that somehow we think our fishery is in trouble. Why would anyone want to send that message when statistics show that our fishery is at least stable, if not improving?

For the record, this was the only topic that was brought to an informal vote among the workshop members. There were nine members opposing the bag limit reduction and three in favor. The most passionate argument in favor of reducing the bag limit came from a man who is upset by what he believes is undue fishing pressure on his particular lake and wants the limits reduced to encourage folks to fish somewhere else. Why not just work toward improving the fishing on other lakes in his area so that folks will want to fish somewhere else?

There's not enough space in this report to really go into all the details, but for those of us who depend on tourism, it's time to take a closer look. I'm asking the question; What's the big rush? If we need it, we need it, but lets have a look at some real statistics and make a real decision. I'm working on a more definitive article right now and I'll get a link to that as soon as it's finished. If you want to add your 2 cents worth click here to drop us a line.

3/6/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation

Hey Jeff, I heard your input on KAXE Radio this morning about the fish limit reduction. Several weeks back, I read all about that in the Outdoor News and called as many fishermen friends as I could think of and gave them senator Saxhaug and rep Solberg phone number to cast their "no reduction" vote. It must of worked because I found out that by noon that day, 35 people had called in already. I called Senator Tom Saxhaug's office today for a update on that bill but his Aid said he'd have to get back to me after talking to Tom. But he did say they've had a huge volume of calls against this reduction. Greg Abbott

3/7/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation

Jeff, Just read your article. (I usually live vicariously through your fishing reports.) The question I have is "Where is the management science (data) that would support this move?" If the data points us in this direction - fine. That is what we need to do to maintain or increase the fishery. If not, what is the point? I would like science to drive the fishery as much as "the art of compromise" ie. politics.
Just how I feel about the situation. I understand the need for the public to feel confident we have a good fishery so that folks continue to utilize different areas of our natural resource for recreation ($ to keep us alive and the roads open).
In this time when $ for fisheries is stagnant and interaction with the outdoors in general is trending negatively, does the 4 walleye bag limit help that? Will it increase activity? In any case I too would like to see data to support a move before we make the move. Thanks for listening. - Ralph Nyquist

3/7/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation 

Jeff, As a tourist fisherman, the reduction in bag limit may have me think twice about whether or not to drive 13 hours in order to walleye fish. It seems irresponsible to me to impose a reduced bag limit when there are not any statistics, data, etc. to support such legislation. I guess you folks find yourself in the same situation as the tavern, restaurant, etc owners found themselves in here in Illinois regarding the no smoking legislation that was passed – so much for “We the people” getting to vote on such items.

I agree with you, if it is necessary, then it is necessary, but where is the data to support said “necessity”? I am sure all of folks that support the reduction in bag limit have data to show that the economic impact to individuals such as you, and to the state, will be negligible. And where is your DNR on this issue? Or as state employees are they afraid to make a stand for fear of their jobs? Alternative “solutions” such as a shortened season shortened hours, off-limit days, increased license fees, etc would also have a direct impact on your income. Either way Jeff, it looks like you are hosed – less fish = less clients = less $$$. You may want to consider a drive to Baudette – take your fork with you – because it looks like Willy Walleye is done. - Rick Willaredt

3/13/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation 

Hey Jeff, You make your living on the water and harvesting fish. I always trust your judgment as to what is best for the sport. You have guided me and my family for years and are a very good caretaker of waters of Mn. Thank you for taking your time to represent us as clients. Sam Fonner, Indianapolis, IN

3/15/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation 

Hi Jeff, I read your note about the bag limit going to 4 from 6. Has it actually gone down yet, or is their still time to send protests to your fine government in Minnesota about this? Mike Wirtz - Chicago IL

3/15/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation 

Jeff, visited your site this AM...I've talked with Chaudhary's staff. They won't keep very good track of any phone calls. I would encourage the many people who visit your site to E-mail their comments regarding Chaudhary's imposing notions to: Sen.atveer.Chaudhary@Senate.Mn Talk to you soon. Best Regards - Jim (Sand Lake)

3/17/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation 

Hi Jeff, Just read your article and it looks like political smoke is again making a push to change regulations. I agree there is importance for statistics and surveys. There are lakes that would benefit from a change in limits but lets look at them. Not just a wholesale change that does what you say-making it look like our fish population is struggling. I like the slot limits. It has provided a nice opportunity to get some fish and have fun with a bonus of being able to bring a few home. It is an answer to providing for a good population for years to come.

What is needed is a group like you are a part of that provides a blue print for all lakes determining just what guidelines are needed for the available fish habitat and population. It could include fishing pressure, predation as well as water quality and habitat needs. Guess I have rambled enough on stuff that you probably have thought of a long time ago. Jim Tarbell

3/19/08 Comments on Walleye Regulation - A new twist?

Jeff, I heard you talking about the reduced bag limits the legislature was considering on your early bird fishing program. I have an alternate option I wanted your opinion on.

Reduce the walleye limit to 4 as suggested. But in addition to this you would get special fishing tags, bringing your limit back up to 6. You would get up to 3 summer tags and 2 winter tags. These tags would be good for up to 7 days. To get these tags you would buy them for $5.00 each similar to bonus tags for deer.

This would allow people going on fishing trips to get the larger limit, but stop the people who do have a chance to fish weekly from taking larger limits continually. Also it would gain the DNR some additional funds.

The guys who fish a lot are the ones who have a better chance of catching limits because they are generally better fisherman and know the fishing patterns better. (They would still get their bonus tags like everyone else.)

Many people who do go on a few fishing trips a year probably don’t get their limit every time anyway. I think this would also help resorts and guides businesses from being affected by the new lower limits. Let me know what you think. - John Klosterman

3/24/08 Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Survey on Minnesota Walleye Bag Limit Reduction

Hello Everyone - Thanks to everyone who participated in this informal e-mail survey. The result of the e-mail survey on changing the Walleye Limits from six fish to four fish is as follows: YES- 27, NO- 79, Undecided- 7 While the Chamber Board does not have a formal policy on this issue, it is fairly evident that the majority of chamber members answering the survey do not favor reducing the limit to four fish. Thanks again to everyone who participated. Having feed back like this for our legislators in such a timely fashion is valuable to them. Bud (Stone) Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

3/31/08 Link to Senate Committee Hearings on Walleye Regulation

SF3621 has been "laid over", meaning that it is dead for this session. The most onerous section, bag limit reduction plus "slots" has been appended to the omnibus game & fish bill SF3385. The exact reference, Article 3, Section 75, page 63.12 is contained in the attachment to this. Please consider an E-mail to Chaudhary with a CC to Payer asking him to strike this portion of the bill. As Written gives the rule-making authority to the DNR Commissioner, ergo Ron Payer. 

As I mentioned on your show Payer is seeing a 60% approval rate. So, what will he immediately do? If you know your State Senator please give them a CC too. We can use everyone's help on this. Best Regards - Jim

3/31/08 Link to Senate Committee Hearings on Walleye Regulation

Jeff – look at this tape (3:13 into it) to see Chaudhary’s remarks on bringing his reg. changes back (on the floor) even though it was tabled
Friday March 14, 2008 Environment and Natural Resources Agenda:
S.F. 3243 (Olson, M. A.) Leech Lake walleye stocking appropriation.
S.F. 2811 (Lynch) Permanent school fund lands management authority modifications; advisory committee reporting requirements modifications.
S.F. 3621 (Chaudhary) Game fish season and limits modification.
S.F. 3576 (Rest) Viral hemorrhagic septicemia control provisions.
S.F. 3690 (Chaudhary) Wildlife management areas local ordinances exemption.
S.F. 3385 (Chaudhary) Monument designation authority change; state park names and permit requirements modification. Real Media format (You need the real media player installed to view these) 05:59:00 - Dick Sternberg

Hooking Mortality of Walleye in Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota

Keith A. Reeves, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, P.O. Box 138, Aitkin, MN 56431; 218-927-7505; FAX 218-927-4121

Catch-and-release walleye fishing is common in Minnesota, in part due to mandated harvest restrictions. At Mille Lacs Lake, the State is obligated to include mortalities from catch and release in its treaty managed walleye harvest. The State formerly estimated hooking mortality at 6% for walleyes > 13 inches and 10% for walleye <13 inches. Large catches at Mille Lacs in 2002 yielded high hooking mortality estimates.

This catch-and-release study was initiated to determine a Mille Lacs-specific walleye hooking mortality estimate, and to determine what factors most influence this mortality. Walleye were sampled via angling throughout the open water season in 2003.

Anglers included volunteers and DNR employees who used live bait and various types of terminal gear. DNR employees retrieved angled walleye and placed them in holding cages, generally within five minutes of their being landed. Collected walleye were held in holding cages for five days, examined, and released. Angled walleye in this study averaged over 20 inches.

Prior to 24 June, at water temperatures less than 20 0C, only 1% of the angled walleye died. Mortalities occurred in walleye caught from at least 7 m depth and at water temperatures near 20 0C. In May and June, no fishing method was highly correlated with walleye mortalities. Catch and release may be a very effective tool in recycling walleye, and reducing harvest without substantially increasing the kill.