By Doug Leier

Any frequent reader of this column will realize that I'm fairly open-minded about any outdoors discussion and savor a passionate conversation on outdoors topics. One topic that seems to come up fairly frequently is regulations, and whether we need more or less of them.

As the agency responsible for managing fish and wildlife for the state, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department tries to keep regulations as simple as possible without putting resources at risk. Sometimes it's a fine line to walk, but this philosophy usually works to balance biological efficiency with less cumbersome regulations.

ND Fishing Guide

The ND Fishing Guide provides fair and consistent regulations to help ensure a healthy balance of wildlife and game fish are left over for many reasons​

In most cases, the biological objective is an important factor for determining whether a new regulation is needed, or whether a current regulation is no longer necessary. For instance, will reducing a daily or possession limit maintain or enhance a fish or game population?

By the same token, will providing more hunter or angler opportunity through increased limits or longer seasons reduce populations?

Sometimes, limits have more of a social than biological influence. For example, if a specific body of water supports little or no natural fish reproduction and relies solely on stocking, then regulations don't really protect the fish population. However, limits may help spread out harvest of that population so more anglers can enjoy a limited resource.

Even in lakes with adequate natural reproduction, the challenge is establishing a limit that keeps people interested in fishing but doesn't allow so much harvest that the quality of the fishery declines over time.

The equation for a sustainable fishery is not always as simple as appropriate limits. Sometimes, fish populations decline regardless of fishing pressure, because of winterkills, summerkills or receding water levels over time. Some people believe that liberal limits ensure that, especially in shallow prairie lakes, fish populations are used before Mother Nature inevitably takes them away. However, no one has a crystal ball and can predict when those situations will occur.

Which brings up the prospect of lake-specific limits. With about 400 managed lakes in the state, can you imagine the confusion if every fishing water had its own set of regulations for limits or fishing methods.

There's not body of water in North Dakota from which you can keep more than five walleyes, nor is there a lake where the daily limit is less than five. Some lakes have live bait restrictions, a few lakes have a minimum size limit for certain fish species, but for the most part, regulations are fairly consistent across the state.

Philosophically, this endears itself to recruitment and retention of anglers. And there's research to prove it. People generally want regulations that are consistent and easy to understand.

But there's also a place for special regulations when they will likely benefit the resource, or benefit anglers without hurting the resource. In most cases, the best fishing is a result of good aquatic habitat that promotes a strong fish population, supported by responsible regulations and angler ethics.

Case in point. As we head in to 2013, fishing prospects across the state are excellent. And it wasn't rules and regulations that created the current bounty of fishing waters that hold good fish populations.

North Dakota is fortunate to have a wealth of fish habitat right now, and based on the conversations I've been having at gas stations, coffee shops, local cafes, on the phone or online, people are excited about it.

Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached via email: [email protected]