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Zeal For Early Minnesota Fishing Opener Fades

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The appetite for letting Minnesota’s anglers hit the lakes a week earlier for the annual walleye opener seems to be fading at the state Capitol, judging by a hearing Monday.

Minnesota senators involved in outdoors issues spoke against shifting the opener from May 12 to May 5 during a hearing where no vote was taken. The proposal could be added, however, to a broader fish and game bill that may get a vote by the full Senate as soon as Tuesday.

Some senators who expressed openness to the speedup weeks ago are now on record against it, including Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen.

Minnesota’s opener is set for May 12. A proposal would shift it to May 5, partly to keep it from conflicting with Mother’s Day weekend.

On a voice vote in early April, the House backed the date shift as part of a bigger game and fish package. One lawmaker called it a “bonus week” rather than an early opener because there would still be hoopla around the May 12 weekend when the annual Governor’s Fishing Opener is held. But it would be a week or more before any bill with the law change could reach Gov. Mark Dayton.

To keep prized species from being overfished, the state has long waited until the weekend closest to May 15 to start its season for walleye and northern pike. The seasons for bass, muskies and sturgeon differ.

Resort owners argue a date change would come too late for them to accommodate guests because many need more time to complete vacation season preparations or have events that conflict with the proposed opening weekend.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, said he hasn’t heard from a single resort owner from his area advocating for the change.

“They’re not mixed in my district,” Carlson said. “They don’t want it.”

Republican Rep. Tom Hackbarth, who wants the earlier opener, said he wasn’t giving up and he hoped the Senate would come around to his position. He dismissed concerns that dominated Monday’s discussion.

“My concern is for the citizens,” Hackbarth said. “Give them an extra weekend to go out and fish. It’s one time, one year only.”

Through an aide, Sen. Tom Bakk, another supporter of the switch, declined to say if he would force a vote on Tuesday.

Testifiers at the Senate hearing expressed concern that it would pose long-term risks to the fishery because spawning walleye could be particularly vulnerable. The warm spring got the spawning season off to an early start this year but cooler temperatures of late have slowed it down some, natural resources experts say.

“Why mess with something we don’t need to? We really don’t,” said Tom Neustrom, a fishing guide from northern Minnesota told the Senate panel during the informational hearing.

Bob Meier, a state Department of Natural Resources official, said the agency doesn’t favor permanently pushing up the opener from its traditional mid-May start, but that the agency was deferring to lawmakers in this instance.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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