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Why Are Bluegill Getting Smaller? A Science-Based Path to Better Fishing

The sunfish family of freshwater fish (bluegill and redear to name a few species) might be responsible for “hooking” more people on fishing than any other fish. They’re abundant, widely distributed, willing biters and exciting fighters while making excellent table fare to boot. Wired2fish interviewed Minnesota (MN) DNR fisheries biologist Dave Weitzel for a detailed look at the unique biology of sunfish and how reduced harvest of larger fish can significantly improve the size structure of sunfish populations.

Panfish anglers in Minnesota and beyond have shared concerns about reduced sunfish size. Be it the use of powerful fish finder technologies or the rapids spread of information on social media, the pressure on fisheries has never been greater and anglers more effective. The MN DNR’s Quality Sunfish Initiative aims to improve the size structure of sunfish populations on select lakes capable of producing large sunfish through the reduction of daily limits from the statewide 20 fish limit to reduced bag limits of 10 or 5 fish (depending on the body of water).

Weitzel goes into fascinating detail about the life cycle of sunfish and how angler harvest, especially of large male sunfish, can significantly impact size quality. While biologists have conclusive data supporting how to improve sunfish size structure, the MN DNR ultimately manages the state’s fisheries to meet angler expectations. Thus far, there has been strong public support for reduced sunfish limits on most proposed waters, with follow-on surveys showing size improvements.

The DNR wants to know your thoughts. Please weight-in on the matter using this online survey or contact an area fisheries office. The quality sunfish initiative has also garnered interest from other states seeking to improve sunfish size structure, so don’t hesitate to reach out for further information.

See also our article about the bluegill and panfish world records.