Published May 31, 2009, 12:00 AM

Hmong anglers enjoy new access to white bass

About 100 white bass hitched a short ride recently between two small Ramsey County lakes, but the fish relocation was a bigger step in relations between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Southeast Asian anglers.

By: Chris Niskanen, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — About 100 white bass hitched a short ride recently between two small Ramsey County lakes, but the fish relocation was a bigger step in relations between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Southeast Asian anglers.

DNR fisheries workers captured the white bass in Pleasant Lake in North Oaks and trucked them two miles downstream to Sucker Lake in Vadnais Heights. Pleasant Lake is off-limits to fishing, so the fish are now available for anglers to catch.

More specifically, they are available to Southeast Asian anglers, who in recent years have pushed the DNR to put more effort into white bass management. The white-fleshed fish are highly coveted by Hmong and other Southeast Asian anglers because they are tasty and resemble a species native to their homelands.

“It is a good fish to eat, with less bones,” said John Ny Vang, St. Paul. “You can steam them and fry them, and the meat is firm.”

White bass are found mostly in large rivers, such as the St. Croix and the Mississippi, but in few lakes. Most of the state’s anglers hold the species in low regard, preferring walleyes, black bass and northern pike — species that get the bulk of the DNR’s attention.

But a new St. Paul sportsman’s group has persuaded the DNR to pay more attention to white bass.

The group, the Capitol Sportsman’s Chapter of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, represents mostly Southeast Asian sportsmen and has interests that include fishing and squirrel hunting. Vang is a founding member. He said that in 2007 he presented a program at a DNR roundtable, which included Commissioner Mark Holsten, to make white bass a higher priority.

The agency agreed. The DNR’s fisheries managers have developed a four-part plan to publicize more of Minnesota’s white bass hotspots, conduct white bass fishing clinics, test fish for contaminants and try experimental stockings to boost populations.

The Sucker Lake stocking was the first such effort. “If this works out reasonably well and there is some measure of success, we’re willing to give it a try for a few more years,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR regional fisheries supervisor. “It’s a small, inexpensive thing we can do and it addresses the concerns of a group that has a strong angling tradition.”

He said the Sucker Lake project costs $1,000 or less.

In the past two decades, the agency has translated fishing regulations into Southeast Asian languages, hired Southeast Asian managers and recruited and hired three Southeast Asian conservation officers.

More recently, those officers and volunteers have been teaching five or six firearms safety classes to Southeast Asian hunters annually.

There are 30,000 to 40,000 Southeast Asian anglers, according to Josee Cung, the DNR’s Southeast Asian liaison officer.

But the white bass program is the DNR’s first wildlife management effort that caters to that group.

“It’s such an important species that many Minnesota Southeast Asian anglers go to Devils Lake in North Dakota to fish for them,” Cung said. “The Sportsman’s Chapter made the economic argument, if people drive to Devils Lake, why can’t we have more white bass in Minnesota?”

Pleasant Lake is part of St. Paul’s water supply system and off-limits to fishing. The fish are in Pleasant and the connecting chain of lakes because the system is linked to the Mississippi River. The fish survive in Pleasant Lake because it has moving water, but it is doubtful the bass will reproduce in Sucker Lake, Peterson said.

The Pleasant-Sucker relocation makes sense, Peterson said, because both have invasive zebra mussels present. It would be impossible to move the white bass to any lakes that don’t have zebra mussels.

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