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Bakk, Klobuchar step in to save cisco season, but unfortunately it's too late

The Ely Echo of Ely, Minnesota

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Despite the efforts of a state and U.S. senator, the harvesting of ciscoes at Prairie Portage appears to be lost for 2015.

The Ely Echo reported on Oct. 17 that the decades long practice of harvesting ciscoes at Prairie Portage was stopped by the Forest Service after an inquiry was made by the Minnesota DNR.

Forest Service officials cite federal laws and regulations that don't allow for commercial harvesting in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

On Wednesday, state Sen. Tom Bakk and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar phoned the Echo to report the Forest Service was willing to give a one-year reprieve.

"I was shocked when I read the story in the Echo," said Bakk. "So I called Amy and she never heard from anybody but me. This is a big deal to get this resolved now."

Unfortunately it appears that it's too late now.

"I wish they would've told us two weeks ago," said Jim Maki of the Great Outdoors.

Maki was one of the main suppliers to provide ciscoes to bait shops from the Gunflint Trail to International Falls to Grand Rapids and Duluth.

"It's just fustrating. We're screwed for this year. Our permit runs out Nov. 11 and they only run for like 10 days. Last year we were done by Nov. 6," said Maki.

"I don't see any way we can pull it off for this year," said Maki. "If they can make this a permanent thing and we just have a one-year setback, that's the way it goes." For Klobuchar, the issue came to light when Bakk called her. Ironically she was attending a meeting on the problem of carp in Minnesota.

"I worked with senator Bakk on the wolf issue so he and I are like 'animals are us,'" said Klobuchar. "I talked to the Forest Service chief and they're going to grant them a reprieve for this year given the timing and what it would've done to the ice fishing season.

"From there we're going to have to try to figure out some way to deal with this. My staff is going to work with the DNR and the Forest Service and the people involved to see what we can do going forward and if there's some exception we can get.

"When Bakk called me I immediately got on it because I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever heard. But the truth is it is a rule and we're going to have to work with them to find some kind of compromise."

Klobuchar talked about the importance of ice fishing in Minnesota, including that she decided to run for office while in a fish house.

In her book, Klobuchar details going to the Eelpout Festival in Walker and making her decision to run while sitting in a fish house.

It's now very likely anglers will have a difficult time finding ciscoes this winter in bait shops in northeast Minnesota.

"It's just too late right now, I can't see any other way," said Maki. "It's good news but it's 10 or 20 days too late."

Prairie Portage, located on the U.S.-Canada border, provides a unique location to harvest ciscoes.

Cold water from Moose, Newfound and Sucker lakes pours over the dam and into Basswood Lake where millions of ciscoes live.

In November the water reaches a certain temperature which triggers the ciscoes to spawn in the current at Prairie where they can be easily harvested and transported back to the Moose Lake public access.

But because Basswood is now infected with spiny water fleas, the rules over transporting from an infested lake over waters that are not have made the process difficult.

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Original Publication Date: November 7, 2015

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