- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota’s northern pike are in a predicament.

Large and trophy fish are disappearing, while medium-sized “eater” pike are increasingly taking a back seat to small fish often derided by anglers, according to state wildlife officials.

Regulations and angler practices aren’t helping, they say.

Pike, which are at once loved, loathed and overlooked, are the focus of what will likely be a yearslong attempt by the Minnesota Department of Natural resources to preserve larger pike where possible and purge smaller ones where necessary.

Pike regulations have remained largely unchanged for more than half a century, and proposed changes are expected to be controversial among the angling public. Public hearings will be held, and it’s possible the issue could end up before state lawmakers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1jsIvTL ) reported.

Pike are the state’s second-most-sought-after fish, according to surveys. And they’re perhaps the most prolific; throw a stone into nearly any body of water in the northern two-thirds of the state and chances are pike are there and have been for 10,000 years.

Yet in terms of political clout, the pike lobby pales in comparison to that of the walleye, Minnesota’s state fish, whose populations are often maintained through stocking in lakes where the fish doesn’t reproduce naturally.

Among the DNR’s ideas:

- The agency wants to consider splitting the state into three or four northern pike zones, each with different regulations.

- In some areas, DNR officials will push to prohibit keeping big fish - the ones generations of Minnesotans have prized for the dinner plate and sport fishermen revere for their fighting ability. In other areas, the agency will seek to encourage anglers to keep small pike - the ones traditionally scorned as boney “slimers” unfit for the table.

- And in many areas, the fish most commonly kept - “eaters” of 24 inches to 28 inches or so - could be protected with tighter harvest regulations. In some areas, regulations might alternate between protecting fish one year and allowing anglers to keep them the next.

“I know people will not like the idea of complicated regulations, but pike management is truly not a case for one size fits all,” said Tim Goeman, the DNR’s regional fisheries manager in Grand Rapids and a member of a DNR working group focusing on esox lucius - the northern pike - and its larger cousin, the muskellunge.

Current statewide pike regulations - three fish daily, not more than one over 30 inches - aren’t working, according to Goeman and other DNR officials.

Large pike are disappearing while small ones are proliferating - often to the detriment of walleye.

The problems aren’t novel, but research data - and public sentiment - have reached a tipping point, officials say.

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