Around 16 million sunfish each year are caught on Minnesota lakes, making them the most harvested fish in the state. In order to avoid stunted populations of sunfish, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) is encouraging anglers to release larger sunfish, instead keeping the smaller ones for eating.
According to the DNR, during spring and early summer, sunfish spawn in large nesting colonies. The female lays the eggs and then leaves them with a male who builds the nest and protects and fans them with his fins.
The largest male will often get the best spawning sites, proving that sometimes size does matter. If anglers keep all of the larger males this leaves no competition for the smaller males, who then focus on spawning instead of growing.
“Some of our local lakes and rivers have bluegill populations with very good sized fish present. Exercising selective harvest of bluegill will help to ensure that quality size structure exists into the future,” said Leslie George, DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor in Hinckley. “Harvesting big bluegill, which are typically males, removes a critical component of spring spawning success from the population and eliminates these fish from passing along their genes. Practicing the catch and release of big bluegill while keeping smaller fish for an afternoon fish fry will help protect bluegill populations for future generations of anglers of all ages.”
A DNR press release states that spawning sunfish are particularly prone to over harvest because they are very aggressive while defending a nest. Anglers can help by releasing spawning sunfish, especially large, nesting males. Released fish have a high survival rate and will typically return to their nests to complete the spawning cycle.