#UMN golden shiner project aims to fix MN baitfish shortage #Usa #Miami #Nyc #Houston #Uk #Es

#UMN golden shiner project aims to fix MN baitfish shortage #Usa #Miami #Nyc #Houston #Uk #Es

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A man stands outside a greenhouse.
Barry Thoele stands in front of one of his greenhouses near Staples, Minn. As part of the Minnesota Sea Grant golden shiner project, Thoele will grow baitfish right alongside his hydroponics system that grows lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and hot peppers. (Michael Johnson / Forum News Service)

STAPLES, Minn. — Some Minnesota anglers could be skunked before they even hit the water for this weekend’s fishing opener with live bait supplies limited.

Bait producer Barry Thoele, of Staples, blames record breaking winter kill as a major factor hurting bait supplies this spring. But the demise of the bait industry has been coming for years as minnow populations continue to shrink in the wild and in conventional farming practices that require overwintering in outdoor ponds, he added.

Recent projections by bait dealers estimate a deficit of approximately 10,000 gallons of golden shiners annually in Minnesota. The golden shiner is a go-to bait for many walleye anglers, even as prices hang out around $1 per minnow.

Thoele said it’s up to Minnesota aquaculture to fill the needs to save the state’s fishing tourism, where wild harvest is coming short. That’s why he’s participating in a new golden shiner research project led by the Minnesota Sea Grant at the University of Minnesota.

As someone who’s been harvesting and selling bait for over 35 years, Thoele is opposed to talk of importing the minnows from other states, a common practice in other places but illegal in Minnesota. Arkansas is the top producer of farmed baitfish and provides bait to much of the country.

“There is pressure from anglers, bait dealers and legislators to import golden shiner from other states, though this is currently prohibited by law in Minnesota,” said Don Schreiner, Minnesota Sea Grant fisheries specialist and golden shiner project member. “The primary concerns are that importation can introduce aquatic invasive species, disease and parasites that may harm native fish communities.”

Rural boost

Farming the fish right here in Minnesota is the answer, according to Thoele.

“Reality is, this is Minnesota, ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes,’” Thoele said. “You’re telling me we can’t grow the baitfish we need in this state? I think we need to start looking at the science.”

As part of the golden shiner project, Thoele will grow golden shiners right alongside his hydroponics system that grows lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and hot peppers in central Minnesota.

“I’m not doing this for the money,” Thoele said — though there’s money to be made, with shiners fetching around $100 a gallon for producers. “I’m doing this because we need to fix this problem, and importing potentially more invasives doesn’t work.”

Schreiner said baitfish farming has an opportunity to do more than rescue the fishing industry — it could be a big boost to rural Minnesota for those that want to learn how to successfully produce the fish to sell to bait dealers.

The 2018 U.S. Department of Agriculture Aquaculture Census reported that golden shiners were the most valuable baitfish produced in the U.S. with $16.4 million in total sales and more than 3.9 million pounds sold.

“These golden shiners would be very lucrative for them,” Schreiner said. He said it wouldn’t be unheard of to get $20 a pound for the shiners without any processing involved.

“We are getting a lot of calls from people, even though we’ve only been at this for a year,” Schreiner said of the project interest.

As someone who has spent his life working to protect the state’s fisheries, he appreciates that this project seeks to avoid introducing outside invasives.

“The last thing I want to see is us import bait for short term gain and then introduce invasive species or some sort of disease,” he said.



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