Minnesotans expect temperatures in the 70s, maybe reaching the 80s in places, when April debuts Sunday, but the continued warm weather worries anglers.
The record-breaking 2012 warmth is hurting their sport and businesses that support it after a series of warmer-than-normal winters. They fear it will kill game fish.
“We are very concerned about keeping our rural communities healthy,” said John Lenczewski, executive director of Minnesota Trout Unlimited.
About 2 million Minnesota anglers provide for a $4.8 million in economic activity and 43,000 jobs.
Outdoors and conservation groups Thursday said the warm weather is hurting fish that need cold weather. They fear some fish may die off as water temperatures rise, providing an opening for invasive species such as Asian carp to move in.
“Trout, steelhead and salmon are cold water species,” Lenczewski said, and warm weather threatens them.
Early snowmelts with less snow force fish to live in shallower water, he added, which reduces fish numbers.
In most of Minnesota, especially the north, ice fishing is important to the economy, said Keith Blomstrom, president of the Minnesota Conservation Federation.
“There are icehouses for sale all over in north Minnesota,” Blomstrom said. “Snowmobiling is a thing of the past.”
Restaurants, bars and other businesses that depend on outdoors-related business “are hurting all over northern Minnesotan,” he said.
State officials tracking recreation businesses have no reports of any permanently closing because of the warming climate, but some ski resorts have dealt with shorter seasons.
Blomstrom, who has a cabin near Breezy Point, said that “the ice is unsafe. I told my family we are not doing this anymore.”
Eelpout and other cold-weather fish are disappearing, Blomstrom said.
The state Department of Natural Resources is studying how the warming trend affects fish.
Cisco fish, related to the salmon, are one of the keys, according to the DNR’s Andy Carlson. They live in cold water, and even in the summer need cool water in the bottom of lakes.
The species has been on the decline for 20 years, which affects food for larger game fish anglers want.
“It is something that we are starting to look at the implications,” Carlson said.
Minnesota’s marquee fish, the walleye, may be affected by a warmer climate, but Minnesota “will likely always be a very good for growing walleye,” Carlson said.
As temperatures climb, he added, walleye may grow faster in warmer waters and there may be more in central Minnesota waters.
The outdoors groups said moose, ducks and even robins also are adversely affected by warm weather. Blomstrom said that he is worried that birds will lay eggs early this year, but be threatened by frost later this spring.