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DNR fisheries chief Payer to retire

Ron Payer, long-time chief of fisheries for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, announced today that he is retiring from the agency effective Nov. 2. He made the announcement at a fisheries meeting at the Cloquet Forestry Center just before noon.

Don Schreiner, DNR Lake Superior area fisheries supervisor, was at the meeting and confirmed that Payer made the announcement. It was confirmed by a DNR employee in St. Paul.

Payer has been with the Department of Natural Resources for 32 years and has been chief of fisheries since 1998.

"As a fisheries chief and as a person, he's probably the most dedicated person I know, to the state and to fisheries. The guy has integrity," Schreiner said. "As a fisheries chief, everything was based on science-based management of the species."

Payer was well respected among his peers in other states and within the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Schreiner said.

Duluth conservationist David Zentner dealt with Payer on a number of fisheries and environmental issues.

"Ron was an open and, for me, an accessible person," Zentner said. "Professional, courteous. I think he put a good face on the Division of Fisheries and the DNR."

Although threatened by invasive species, including VHS (viral hemorrhagic septicemia), Minnesota's fisheries are considered by most to be in good shape. Payer supervised the state's fisheries at a time when many major walleye fisheries saw protective slot limits established. He dealt with the ongoing issue of walleye stocking, sometimes clashing with stakeholders who preferred stocking to other management tools.

Payer also helped guide the agency through the close and eventual resurgence of walleye fishing on Upper Red Lake, working closely with officials of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa.

Payer's retirement is unfortunate, said Brian Borkholder, inland fisheries biologist for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

"He's a great guy and was very easy to work with from the tribal perspective. He always treated the tribes very fairly," Borkholder said.

"Certainly, he increased the level of professionalism in fisheries," said Paul Radomski, a DNR research scientist in Ecological Services who worked in the Fisheries Section for 20 years. "He was seeking to get more educated folks into the department, and that translated to higher productivity and better fish management overall. I give him credit for trying to move fisheries science into the next century."

"I think everyone would agree that, in general, fishing in Minnesota is better today than it was 10 years ago," the DNR's Schreiner said.

No successor has been named for Payer's position. DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten could not be reached for comment.