by Louis Hoglund,
Managing Editor

Things were “all quiet on the muskie front”–or so it seemed.

The controversial issue over the introduction and stocking of the aggressive predator-fish hadn’t been prominently in the headlines for a year or more. That changed in the Otter Tail County lake region in September and October, when the Pelican Lake Property Owners Association delivered a detailed stack of documents and supporting data to the county board.

“Invasive species” is how muskie are labeled by the Pelican property owners. The information was apparently convincing enough for the Otter Tail County Board to pass a resolution calling for a five year “ban” on muskie stocking in lakes.

Another “muskie melee” appears inevitable.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources area fisheries chief, Jim Wolters, said that the DNR will be requesting time on the county board’s agenda to address the resolution.

Wolters and DNR officials have consistently argued that muskies have not had negative impact on fish populations. Further, the DNR stands by its jurisdiction in managing public waters. So, as a matter of legal reality, the Otter Tail board resolution carries little  official weight over the DNR’s control of the waters.

In 2015, the Pelican association challenged muskie stocking on two fronts–losing both:

• The PLPOA filed for a temporary restraining order to prohibit further muskie stocking. It was denied in Otter Tail County Court.

• The PLPOA petitioned the DNR for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet to determine the impact of muskies on existing fish populations and the lake ecosystem. The DNR declined. Meanwhile, PLPOA has gathered nearly 250 signatures from property owners, not only on Pelican but also Lake Lizzie, who oppose muskie stocking.

Migration of muskies from stocked lakes to other waters is an issue, according to PLPOA. Lizzie has become a best kept secret for muskie fishermen, according to the PLPOA, as well as Sallie, another migration lake.

Pelican association and the DNR are at odds over fish survey data–not unlike the environmental climate change debate. The DNR’s scientific fish population data and conclusions don’t hold up to the scrutiny of the Pelican Lake Association.

In fact, the PLPOA has ended its own walleye stocking program, which represents nearly $80,000 of member-raised funds over the past 20 years.

“(We) will no longer stock walleye in Pelican Lake at our expense while the DNR stocks muskie against our objections, and we are encouraging other lakes to do the same. Why should we spend our money on muskie food?”

Over the past 20 years, DNR funds have totaled about $65,000 on walleye stocking in Pelican Lake. During the same time period, the DNR has invested $446,000 on muskie management in Pelican Lake, according to the PLPOA.

The PLPOA has been consistent in their contention that muskies are not native to the Pelican River system–and therefore an “invasive” species.

800 muskies let loose in Pelican Lake in 1978

Nearly 40 years later, the issue has engaged anglers, property owners, DNR, and Otter Tail County officials

The call for a five year ban on stocking muskie in three Otter Tail County Lakes, if actually implemented, would end a half-century of muskie management in the area. Why were muskies brought to Otter Tail County in the first place?

West Battle Lake has been stocked with muskies for 54 years, since 1963. This appears to stem from the fact that Muskies Inc, a sportsmens organization promoting muskie fishing and habitat, operated a muskie hatchery operation near Battle Lake.

Muskies were introduced to Pelican Lake in 1978. The history behind this is both cloudy and conflicting. Fergus Falls-based area fisheries supervisor Jim Wolters said that the Pelican Lake Property Owners Association has been the leading force against muskie–while not necessarily
speaking for other associations.

While an anti-muskie sentiment has swelled among some lake associations. Wolters cautioned that one highly vocal lake group doesn’t necessarily represent the position of all lakes.

“You have one lake association asking for a stocking ban, yet Battle Lake also has a substantial lake association,” said Wolters. “West Battle Lake has a fish committee and, by and large, they are supportive of the muskie stocking program and we are also working with Battle on a walleye management program.”

The third lake is Beers, which is entirely within the boundaries of DNR-managed land, at Maplewood State Park.

Wolters was somewhat perplexed with the notion of the Otter Tail County Board calling for a stocking ban in a lake solely within state park land. There are no inlets or outlets that would allow migration of muskies to waters outside of Maplewood State Park.

The history of muskie stocking on Pelican dates to 1978. According to a Fargo Forum newspaper report at the time, the Pelican Lake association asked the DNR to establish muskie in Pelican.

However, in its testimony to the Otter Tail County board, the Pelican Association made a motion to ask the DNR to “investigate stocking” of muskie in June of 1978. The DNR stocked 800 muskie in fall of 1978–but there was never a public hearing on the topic, which by standard practice, would have been held prior.

In other words, the DNR acted before the proper public notification and hearing procedures were conducted–according to the PLPOA.

A hearing was finally held in Pelican Rapids, August of 1979, which was reportedly heated at times, with about 90 attending.

Complaints about muskies began surfacing again in 2004, and escalated in 2014-15–including a cease and desist court action and a call for a muskie-impact environmental assessment –initiated by the Pelican Lake Property Owners Association.