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Administrative Rule (Regulation) Changes

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The Natural Resources Advisory Council reviewed the fish and wildlife-related administrative rule proposals listed below. For more information about the meetings, please go to: https://www.in.gov/nrc/2334.htm

Rule proposals that are reviewed and approved will go to the Natural Resources Commission for preliminary adoption at a date yet to be determined.


Increase the minimum size limit for largemouth bass to 18 inches and reduce the daily bag limit to no more than 2 largemouth bass at 4 lakes in Noble County – Bixler, Henderson, Little Long, and Round. (312 IAC 9-7-6)

Carp can survive in poor water conditions and outcompete bluegill and other popular sportfish, especially when there are few largemouth bass. Studies have shown there are currently very large carp populations in these four lakes, but few bass above the current legal limit that can help control carp. Increasing the minimum size requirement for largemouth bass and reducing the daily bag limit will result in more and a greater number of large bass that can control carp populations. This will also result in more and larger bluegill. Using largemouth bass to control carp avoids the high cost associated with more extreme and intensive management options, like total fish eradication and restocking.

Add cisco and western sand darter to the endangered species of fish and remove the northern brook lamprey from the state’s endangered species list. (312 IAC 9-6-9, also 312 IAC 9-7-14 (remove cisco))

This proposed rule would impact the conservation status of three species. Cisco used to occur across Indiana, but currently are limited to only seven lakes. The DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife has worked extensively to understand the habitat needs as well as the population status and trends of cisco throughout Indiana. Without intervention, cisco will likely become locally extinct. The second species, western sand darter, is thought to have occurred across Indiana but is currently restricted to a few disjointed areas. Northern brook lamprey is being proposed for removal from the state endangered species list. Little was known about the northern brook lamprey population when listed. Newer research has shown that this species is more abundant than previously thought, and its status should be downgraded from endangered to special concern.

  • More information about Cisco and the western sand darter

    The cisco is a cold-water species within the family Salmonidae, which requires late-summer (i.e., late August through early September) water temperatures less than 68.0 °F with a dissolved oxygen concentration of at least 3 ppm. Accelerated eutrophication of Indiana’s glacial lakes has steadily reduced the number of lakes with adequate water quality to support cisco. In 1955, cisco existed in 42 Indiana lakes. Subsequent population assessments of cisco revealed declines by the early 1970s, continuing into the early 1990s and 2000s. The most recent assessment of cisco by the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) indicates that there are now only 7 lakes remaining with cisco. The remaining cisco lakes (and their counties) include Crooked (Noble/Whitley), Eve (Lagrange), Failing (Steuben), Gage (Steuben), Indiana (Elkhart), and North/South Twin (Lagrange) lakes. While each of these lakes contains cisco, the availability of late-summer cold-water habitat appears to have declined in many of them. On multiple occasions cold-water habitat degradation has resulted in cisco die-offs. Temporary dissolved oxygen depletion has previously resulted in multiple late-summer cisco die-offs at Crooked Lake (Noble/Whitley), including die-offs in 1981, 1986, 2000, 2012, and 2017. Based on the historical decline of cisco, the species is likely to become extirpated from Indiana in the next 100 years (Figure 1). Accelerated eutrophication is likely the primary source of the decline of cisco in Indiana.

    Therefore, the future persistence of cisco will depend on the ability to leverage partners to adopt watershed management practices to reduce nutrient loading.

    Figure 1. Observed and predicted decline (Number of lakes) of cisco among Indiana lakes.

    There are very few anglers (<1%) that target the species, and those who do are limited primarily to Crooked Lake (Noble/Whitley).

    Western Sand Darter: There is only limited information on the historical distribution of the western sand darter in Indiana. None were captured in a statewide survey of fishes between 1940 and 1943. Two specimens were collected from the main stem White River near Petersburg, Knox-Pike counties in 1977. In more recent times, the DFW has been able to collect western sand darter farther upstream on the East Fork White River in Martin County and Daviess-Dubois counties, as well as former locations in Daviess-Pike counties. It has also been collected from the main stem White River, Knox-Pike counties. The western sand darter was likely a wide-ranging, large river darter species in Indiana historically, but is now restricted to rather disjunct portions of the main stem White River in Gibson, Knox, and Pike counties, and the East Fork White River in Daviess, Dubois, and Martin counties over a total of approximately 70 river miles. The current status and stability of these populations is not well understood. At the September 29, 2017, meeting of Indiana’s Nongame Fish Technical Advisory Committee, it was recommended that the western sand darter be added to Indiana’s list of endangered fish species.

Add a definition of pink salmon and include in the definition of “Trout and Salmon” in 312 IAC 9-6-1

The Division of Fish & Wildlife maintains a state record for pink salmon, and pink salmon is currently included in the Trout and Salmon bag limit in the Indiana fishing regulations guide. However, pink salmon is not currently included in the definition of “trout and salmon” in the Indiana administrative code, which creates ambiguity for anglers. Adding pink salmon to the administrative code will simplify the rules and provide greater clarity on if an angler has reached the bag limit when catching this rare fish.

Establish a 14-inch minimum size limit for sauger, reduce the daily bag limit to 6 sauger, walleye, and saugeye in aggregate, and reduce the possession limit to 12 total of sauger, walleye and saugeye for sport fishing on the Ohio River. 312 IAC 9-7-16

Current sauger regulations are not providing enough protection from overfishing. Overfishing threatens the availability of this popular species for future anglers. Collaborative efforts by several Midwestern state fish and wildlife agencies examined sauger trends and recommended increasing the size limit and reducing the bag limit to help sauger size and reproduction. These efforts have been proposed or have already been passed in other states. Sauger grow relatively quickly, so anglers should see increases in the number of large sauger and enjoy better quality fishing experiences within two years.

Add a 14” minimum size limit for saugeye taken from Glenn Flint Lake in Putnam County. 312 IAC 9-7-12

Saugeye stocking in Glenn Flint Lake is a newly approved effort that will increase fishing opportunities in this county. The other two existing saugeye fisheries in Indiana currently use a 14 inch minimum size limit to provide opportunities to catch larger fish, which are preferred by anglers. Adopting this same minimum size limit will help develop a quality fishery in Glenn Flint Lake, which can have positive economic benefits for the surrounding businesses by attracting more anglers to the area.

Eliminate the commercial harvest of roe-bearing species (paddlefish, shovelnose sturgeon and bowfin) in all Indiana waters.

Commercial harvest has caused the average size of shovelnose sturgeon to decrease to all-time lows, and evidence shows that illegal harvest of undersized fish is already occurring. The DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife has worked intensively to understand trends, learn more about these species’ biology, and track population trends over time. Commercial fishers have also remarked that paddlefish populations are declining, and it is becoming more difficult to harvest this species and even propose regulations to their own industry. Shovelnose sturgeon and paddlefish take longer to mature, live to older ages, and reproduce much less frequently compared to other fish species. This means traditional fish management techniques, such as setting size limits, may not have the same positive impacts on these two species’ populations. Complete closure of commercial harvest will allow these two species’ populations to begin to recover. Sportfishing anglers would continue to be able to harvest shovelnose sturgeon, but not sell the roe.

  • More information about this proposal

    Inland roe harvesters only target shovelnose sturgeon, and recent analysis of long-term biological data indicate the Wabash River shovelnose sturgeon population is being overfished. The annual average size of all sampled sturgeon has decreased from 27.1 inches in 2007 to an all-time low of 25.5 inches in 2017. Moreover, the annual average size for mature females has declined more noticeably from 28.4 inches in 2009 to 25.9 inches in 2018, and condition of females has also been decreasing. Females are maturing at smaller sizes, a population-level response to overfishing that has been documented in other sturgeon populations. Smaller females carry fewer eggs, which will have an impact on the future reproductive potential of the population. Historically, the 25-inch minimum length limit only offered protection for approximately 10% of roe-bearing females, until 2017 and 2018, when the declining size of females pushed the number of sub-legal fish up. Recapture data indicate shovelnose sturgeon have negligible growth once they reach maturity, as exemplified by one individual that was recaptured 13 years after being tagged that grew only 0.3 inches and was still only 23.8 inches at recapture. With an estimated exploitation rate of 22.7%, population models indicate the current regulation is not preventing recruitment overfishing (exploiting the population at a rate that reduces the number of spawning individuals to a point where future recruitment will decrease). Shovelnose sturgeon have a unique life history of being long-lived, late maturing, and being infrequent spawners.  Several documented egg check marks on already sub-legal (<25 inches) fish indicate that increasing the minimum length limit will likely have little impact because the harvest of small, illegal fish is already occurring. Therefore a complete closure of shovelnose sturgeon commercial harvest in Indiana waters is needed to help sustain the population of sturgeon for years to come.

    Ohio River roe harvesters primarily target paddlefish and occasionally capture a few shovelnose sturgeon. Despite lack of extensive data collections, the current paddlefish regulations on the Ohio River offer minimal protection for roe-bearing females (those being targeted commercially). Since 2006, only six confirmed gravid females out of 113 (5.3%) sampled by DNR biologists were less than 32 inches long, the current minimum length limit. Females are reaching maturity at approximately 32 inches long (roughly 10 years old) about the same time they are first able to spawn with mature eggs. Data collected by DNR biologists in 2018 indicate that 36% (N = 64) of the 178 paddlefish sampled were females, and of the females only 7.8% (N = 5) were gravid. This indicates spawning periodicity may be longer than originally expected, and may only occur every 4 to 5 years in the Ohio River. These data are substantially different from fish data collected in 2006, when 58 fish were sacrificed for sex ratio and age data; 55% (N = 32) of fish were female and 40% (N = 13) of the females were gravid. In addition, commercial roe harvesters on the Ohio River have expressed their own concerns for a declining paddlefish population, saying the fishing has gone downhill and is difficult compared to that of 10 years ago. Two regulation changes were actually proposed by commercial fishermen to biologists to help protect the paddlefish population. The unique life history (late maturing, low natural mortality, old ages, infrequent reproduction) of paddlefish, much like that of shovelnose sturgeon, cause them to be sensitive to additional sources of mortality, hence, the need to eliminate the commercial harvest. Sportfishing anglers would continue to be able to harvest shovelnose sturgeon, but not sell the roe.

Add the golden mussel (Limnopema fortunei) to the list of exotic mussels that cannot be imported, possessed, or released into public or private waters in Indiana. (312 IAC 9-9-3)

Native, freshwater mussels play a key role in Indiana’s aquatic systems, but are some of the most endangered animals within the state. These mussels act as natural filters for waterways, serve as an important source of food for many animals, and increase oxygen exchange for all aquatic animals. Golden mussels are an exotic mussel that may negatively impact the already threatened mussels if introduced.

Add definitions for drop line, limb line, free-float line, trot line, set line, and throw line. (312 IAC 9-6-1)

Drop line, limb line, free-float line, trot line, set-line, and throw line are terms used in the Indiana fishing regulations guide. Adding definitions of these terms to the administrative code will reduce ambiguity for anglers and allow anglers and conservation officers to have a shared, clear understanding of different fishing methods.


Add ruffed grouse to the endangered species of birds. (312 IAC 9-4-14, repeal 312 IAC 9-4-10)

Historically, ruffed grouse likely existed throughout all of Indiana. Now, populations have steadily declined and are at less than 1% of the levels observed in the 1980s. Ruffed grouse are on track for local extinction without major management actions. Adding ruffed grouse to the state endangered species list will require environmental reviews in forested environments to consider the impacts on this species. Ruffed grouse populations are expected to benefit from active forest management, including intense and frequent actions that change the plant community and structure. Allowing ruffed grouse to become totally extirpated from Indiana would indicate a failure to act as stewards for this species and require expensive restoration efforts that are unlikely to succeed without the pressing habitat management actions that are already required.

  • More information about ruffed grouse

    The population levels of ruffed grouse in Indiana have dropped to less than 0.5% of the population levels of 1983, and their distribution across the state has dropped from 43 counties in 1983 to persisting in only a few counties in 2018, with extirpation occurring in at least 25 counties since 1983. Historically, ruffed grouse likely existed in all 92 counties of Indiana. The hunting season for ruffed grouse was suspended in 2015.

    State endangered status will raise the conservation need or sensitivity level of ruffed grouse, requiring consideration in environmental reviews pertaining to vegetative disturbance of forest environments. Because ruffed grouse population levels are positively tied to the amount, intensity, and frequency of vegetative disturbance, their presence will generally be supported by active forest management and their populations negatively impacted by passive forest management. The proposal will likely receive wide support across numerous conservation organizations that support wise use and stewardship of renewable natural resources, along with hunters, the birding community, forest management resource organizations and industry, and the public at large that values the existence of wildlife and species richness. Under current trends in advancing forest succession toward more mature forests, ruffed grouse will likely become essentially extirpated unless there are some major natural disturbance events (e.g., series of tornado outbreaks) across the limited forest landscape where ruffed grouse currently persist in south-central and southeast Indiana or sufficiently intense forest management (even-age silviculture) is used to create young forest habitats (0-20 years old). The greatest opportunity for creating meaningful and adequate vegetative disturbance to mitigate advancing forest succession is on public forest lands in south-central Indiana and private forest tracts immediately adjacent public forest land.

    Some might argue that if ruffed grouse become extirpated in Indiana, the population can be re-established by trap-transfer of ruffed grouse from other states with higher-level populations of ruffed grouse. A primary responsibility of the DNR is to take all reasonable and feasible measures to ensure the state’s natural resources are protected and that extirpation does not occur in the first place. Waiting until the ruffed grouse is extirpated and then attempting to restore the state’s population by “trap-transfer” would be incriminating evidence of neglectful stewardship of Indiana natural resources. Restoration of extirpated grouse populations in Indiana is ultimately a last option and likely not a feasible option, especially if habitat does not exist in sufficient quantities to assure the successful survival of displaced grouse from trap and transfer efforts. The costs to pursue such an effort could easily exceed $500,000, perhaps $1 million, given the current plight of the appropriate subspecies across their respective distribution in the eastern U.S. Indiana historically had two subspecies of ruffed grouse. The Midwestern subspecies (Bonasa umbellus mediana) existed in the northwestern region of the state, while the Appalachian subspecies (Bonasa umbellus monticola) occupied the southern two-thirds of Indiana. The Midwestern subspecies is likely extirpated from Indiana and much of its range in neighboring southern Michigan. It is not likely that sufficient, contiguous young forest habitat could be created in either area to create self-sustaining populations of Midwestern ruffed grouse. Both subspecies are extirpated from neighboring Illinois, and the Appalachian subspecies is either in trouble, on the verge of extirpation, or already extirpated in portions of its range in neighboring Kentucky and Ohio, and beyond through the Appalachian states to the Atlantic states. Attempts to use subspecies of ruffed grouse outside their historical distribution have failed.

Add subspecies names for the following species of snakes: ring-necked snake, common gartersnake, eastern ribbonsnake, northern watersnake, smooth earthsnake, racer, and eastern wormsnake. Also modify the taxonomic nomenclature of these 4 snakes held under a Reptile Captive Breeding License: western foxsnake, eastern black kingsnake, eastern milksnake, and prairie kingsnake. (312 IAC 9-5-7 and 312 IAC 9-5-9) Also allow a method of marking snakes held under the Reptile Captive Breeding License other than PIT-tagging (allow scale-clipping)

Some snake species have a variety of subspecies that have unique geographic ranges. For example, common gartersnake has 12 recognized subspecies but only two occur in Indiana. Individuals and reptile breeders are currently subject to species possession limits, even if an animal’s subspecies does not occur in Indiana. Addition of the subspecies to the administrative code will remove the possession limit for these non-native captive snakes that are meant for pet ownership or breeding. The second part of the rule will update scientific names in order to reflect the most current scientific research. The third part of the rule will allow individuals with a reptile captive breeding license to use scale-clipping to mark snakes, as some species are too small for passive integrated transponders to be used safely.

Remove the southeastern chorus frog from the list of native amphibians and add the boreal chorus frog to the list. (312 IAC 9-5-7)

Current research should be used to update the Indiana native amphibians list in order to maintain an updated and accurate list. The southeastern chorus frog is no longer known to occur in Indiana and therefore should be removed from the native amphibians list. Recent research has shown that the boreal chorus frog does occur in northwest Indiana and should be added to the list.

Add eastern cottontail rabbits to the list of mammals that a landowner or tenant can take without a permit when causing damage or threatening to cause damage. (312 IAC 9-3-15)

Eastern cottontail rabbits may cause damage to trees or plants both near the home and in commercial orchard or nursery settings; however, currently, landowners and tenants are required to obtain a permit to take them. Removing the permit requirement for eastern cottontail would reduce the time and monetary burden incurred by individuals that incur damage from this species and empower individuals to more efficiently mitigate nuisance situations.

Specify the age and license requirements for the youth waterfowl season in 312 IAC 9-4-2 for the youth and any accompanying adults.

Federal requirements designate the age and seasons for youth waterfowl hunters but do not outline what license the youth or accompanying adults must hold. Adding the age, youth license requirements, and accompanying adult license requirements to the Indiana administrative code will provide clearer guidelines for hunters and create a shared understanding of requirements for both hunters and conservation officers in Indiana.

Add a definition of “relaxing snare lock” in 312 IAC 9-1-13.2.

Snares are a method of capturing animals that may have relaxing or non-relaxing locks, which control the tightening of the snare. The term “relaxing snare lock” is used in the Indiana hunting and trapping guide, but some locks are being sold as “relaxing” that do not meet the DNR’s interpretation, causing confusion and ambiguity. The DNR interprets “relaxing snare lock” as a lock that releases pressure on a captured animal when an animal stops pulling. Relaxing snare locks are non-lethal, and are especially important for preventing harm to non-target animals such as pet dogs or protected/regulated species. Adding a definition to the administrative code allows for all residents and conservation officers to have a clear understanding of the requirements of a relaxing snare lock.

Require hunter orange at all times when a person is hunting in the deer reduction zone with the use of a firearm (from the start of the deer firearms season through January 31).  (312 IAC 9-3-2)

Individuals are currently required to wear hunter orange while hunting deer during firearms, muzzleloader, and special antlerless firearms seasons. However, individuals may still be hunting with firearms, including high-powered rifles, between and after these seasons until Jan. 31 in deer reduction zones. Adding a hunter orange requirement would make this deer reduction zone season consistent with other deer firearms season and ensure the safety of deer and non-deer hunters during this time.

Allow air rifles and air bows to be used for deer hunting during the deer firearms season. (312 IAC 9-3-3)

Hunters have expressed interest in using air rifles and air bows to harvest deer. Air rifles and air bows are capable of humanely and efficiently harvesting a deer. Equipment would have to meet the same requirements specified by the administrative code, but would allow hunters to have additional options when choosing to hunt for deer during firearms season.


Exempt woodpeckers, hawks, owls, turkey vultures, black vultures, cormorants, woodpeckers and herons from a state migratory bird depredation permit in 312 IAC 9-10-23.

Farmers and landowners may experience conflicts with these species that may result in personal injury to humans or harm to domestic animals. While individuals would still be required to obtain a federal permit to take species involved in conflict, removal of the state permit requirement would reduce the burden and simplify regulatory requirements for landowners seeking options to mitigate damage involving these species.

Eliminate continuing education/test requirement for nuisance wild animal control permit holders that have had a permit for 25 years. (312 IAC 9-10-11)

Nuisance wild animal control operators are required to re-take the permit test or enroll in continuing education every four years despite the length of time he or she has held the permit. Classes are not available statewide, so this requirement may involve significant travel and costs. Removal of this requirement will reduce the burden on individuals who have significant trapping experience as shown by years of experience.

Eliminate the prohibition for special purpose educational permit holders on using animals (birds, etc.) at commercial ventures and require a minimum of 6 programs a year in 312 IAC 9-10-9.5.

Allowing animals held under a special purpose educational permit to be used at programs held at commercial ventures will increase opportunities to share and promote conservation through education. Increased opportunities to share conservation messages can have a positive educational and attitudinal impact and reach additional audiences that may not engage through the currently allowed venues. Additionally, setting a six-program minimum requirement, which is half that required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will also help ensure that animals are being used in an educational capacity rather than being used as a pet.

Exempt eastern box turtles and other turtles possessed under a special turtle possession permit in 312 IAC 9-5-11 from needing to have a separate permit (the special purpose educational permit) to use the turtles in educational programs.

Nature Centers or other facilities that house turtles must already have a special turtle possession permit. In order to use these turtles in educational programs, the facility must apply for an additional special purpose education permit. Removal of the second permit requirement would reduce the burden on facilities that are contributing to broad public engagement and conservation education through these programs.