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Anglers may celebrate a closer look at Minnesota’s funkier fish

Blunt heads, small eyes, grooved lips and a mouth set for bottom feeding, buffalo fish have a face only their mothers could love. And maybe more than one fish fan in the statehouse.

Buffalo fish have been classified as rough fish, thus regulated differently than game fish usually prized by anglers. The classification can include both native and invasive species.

Wednesday, the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee approved HF245, as amended, which would evaluate whether fish species have been properly designated and if any need additional protection. The bill now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Rep. Sydney Jordan (DFL-Mpls), the bill’s sponsor, said she and her family like to fish but find the state’s fish statutes messy and confusing.

“But really I care about this bill because I care about our native fish,” she said. “I want to make sure Minnesotans can keep celebrating and talking and being weird fish nerds.”

This is this year’s version of the ‘No Junk Fish’ bill, building off work done last year by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville), the Department of Natural Resources and biologists.

It would appropriate $134,000 in each of the next two years from the fish and game fund for the DNR to evaluate the rough fish category. A report due the Legislature in December would include recommendations for changing state statutes to list native and invasive species of rough fish separately.

Native Fish for Tomorrow co-founder Tyler Winter said the term “rough fish” first appeared in state law in 1907 and the term has been used in place of statute where people would expect to see invasive species. It’s a category of fish that can be restricted from waters because they are rough fish, even if it’s a native species, he said, adding Minnesota is one of six states that uses rough fish in its statutes. 

The bill would specify that native fish includes bowfin, buffalo, burbot, gar, goldeye, mooneye and white sucker. Invasive fish includes bighead carp, grass carp and silver carp.

Two recent flashpoints spurred the DNR to look at state fish regulations, said Deputy Director Pat Rivers. One is a video that showed a person spearing perhaps up to 100 fish; the other was learning that buffalo fish could live up to 100 years.

“Things of that nature made it seem it would be good to look at our native species and see if we’re missing anything in terms of conservation measures that should be implemented,” Rivers said.


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