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Healthy baitfish support Minnesota's $4.8 billion sport fishing industry

May 9, 2012

Media contact: Catherine Dehdashti, U of M Extension, (612) 625-0237,;

ST. PAUL, Minn. (5/9/2012) —Many of the 1.4 million Minnesotans who hold fishing licenses might not realize how much fishing takes place before the state's May 12, 2012, opener.

All spring, Minnesota's baitfish farmers have been busy raising and harvesting hundreds of thousands of minnows, a popular baitfish used to catch walleyes, northern pike and muskies. Keeping minnows healthy is crucial to the Minnesota's $4.8 billion sport fishing industry, due to their ability to spread diseases. Mounting pressures like disease and aquatic invasive species are threatening and changing the state's aquaculture and baitfish industries.

"Baitfish culture, combined with wild baitfish harvest, has made Minnesota's baitfish industry the second largest in the nation," said Nick Phelps, a University of Minnesota Extension aquaculture specialist who conducts research on Minnesota's baitfish industry—including new production methods and biosecurity plans—to help protect the state's sports fishing and fish farming industries.

"This is important to maintain because all fish used for bait in Minnesota must be raised or harvested in Minnesota," said Phelps. "Importing live fish for use as bait has been prohibited here since the 1960s." Originally the baitfish ban was intended to protect the industry in Minnesota, but it was kept in place to prevent the spread of invasive species and disease.

Phelps works with baitfish and other fish farmers in the state to teach them how to keep their ponds and facilities disease-free. Producers have faced higher standards for training and inspections due to increased threats, but Phelps says they all see the value in ensuring sustainable natural resources. Phelps also reaches out to educate anglers about how they can make sure their actions don't accidentally cause the spread of invasive species and diseases, like viral hemorrhagic septicemia. Early detection would be a key to preventing further spread.

"We're in a better position now than we were five years ago," said Phelps. "Increased cooperation among the university, DNR, and the fishing and fish farming industries have paid off."

There is a lot to celebrate with each fishing opener. Phelps says taking a break to fish his favorite lake helps remind him why his work matters. "The industry is working hard," he said. "Risks exist, but there are safe ways to keep enjoying the sport of fishing as well as the food, tourism and business that fish bring to our state."

For more information on how U of M Extension works to help protect Minnesota's aquaculture, visit

University of Minnesota Extension is a 100-year-old partnership between the university and federal, state and county governments to provide scientific knowledge and expertise to the public. Through Extension, the University of Minnesota "extends" its resources to address critical public issues in priority areas, including food and agriculture, communities, environment, youth and families. For more information, visit

Source: Nick Phelps, Aquaculture Specialist, University of Minnesota Extension

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