Meet Marc Bacigalupi, the DNR’s new Northwest Region fisheries manager
The Northwest Region includes some of the state’s premier walleye fisheries, including Lake of the Woods, Upper Red, Cass and Leech lakes, along with the Red and Red Lake rivers, to name just a few.
BEMIDJI – Growing up on a lake in east-central Minnesota, a fascination with water and the natural world came naturally for Marc Bacigalupi.
“Finding what washed up on shore and then fishing off the dock, that’s what got me started into – just curiosity about the natural world,” Bacigalupi said. “And my uncles did some grouse hunting and some fishing in the Boundary Waters and they took me to the Boundary Waters and that’s where (a passion for the outdoors) really started to take off there, too.”
Becoming a fisheries biologist also was a natural progression for Bacigalupi, who is the new Northwest Region fisheries manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. It’s a big area with big water and some of the state’s premier walleye fisheries, including Lake of the Woods, Upper Red Lake, Cass Lake and Leech Lake, along with the Red and Red Lake rivers, to name just a few.
The DNR’s Northwest Region is headquartered in Bemidji. Bacigalupi replaces Henry Drewes, who retired in 2021. He started his new position in early January.
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Fourth DNR position
A native of Pine City, Minn., Bacigalupi received his undergraduate degree from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. He started with the DNR in 2001, working out of the DNR’s West Metro office, which was in Eden Prairie, Minn., at the time. He worked as assistant area fisheries supervisor for the DNR in Waterville, Minn., from 2006 until 2010, when he became the DNR’s area fisheries supervisor in Brainerd.
His new position as the DNR’s Northwest Region fisheries supervisor is his fourth with the agency. Bacigalupi, who has two middle school-age sons, says he will work from Brainerd for the time being, “but getting up to Bemidji to make contacts whenever I can.”
One of his first priorities as Northwest Region fisheries manager, Bacigalupi says, is filling workforce vacancies. The day after a recent phone interview with the Herald, he was planning to interview candidates for an area fisheries supervisor vacancy in Baudette, Minn.
“We are behind on getting our field staff to where we’d like it to be, to capture the information we need to make smart management decisions,” he said. “So, that’s job No. 1.”
Other challenges, he says, are an ongoing process.
“You always have those natural resource challenges out there that aren’t going to go away – the balancing act between water quality and agricultural uses and what critters need and the challenges of a changing environment and (aquatic) invasive species,” he said. “Those are things that we can tackle, and we’ll just keep working on those.”
As Northwest Region fisheries manager, connecting with people and building relationships also will be a focus, Bacigalupi says.
“Relationships really make the difference in building trust and credibility,” he said. “And so when you’re sharing information, they know it’s coming from the right place.”
Besides managing fish and fisheries, Bacigalupi says he also has a passion for catching them – especially walleyes – and fishes the Northwest Region’s walleye lakes whenever possible.
“I grew up walleye fishing as being kind of my true love, and so I get up there and fish recreationally, too,” he said. “It’s super inspiring, or exciting, to come to work knowing that you’re trying to positively impact those destination-type fisheries – nationwide, really worldwide type-caliber fisheries.”
Lake of the Woods look
A frequent topic of conversation in social media fishing circles this winter has been the abundance of small fish and the relative absence of larger, keeper-size fish on Lake of the Woods. While anglers catch the occasional trophy, a September population assessment on the big lake indicated walleye abundance is slightly below management goals, a trend partially driven by a series of weak year-classes in 2012, 2017 and 2019.
A year-class refers to the number of fish recruited to the population from a particular year’s hatch. At the same time, winter fishing pressure has exceeded 1 million hours every winter since 2000 and 2.5 million hours each of the past three winters, DNR statistics show.
The DNR “definitely keeps track of those things,” but on a larger scale, the walleye population on Lake of the Woods probably isn’t out of range, when compared with other dips in the past, Bacigalupi says.
“The pressure is definitely out there and that’s something we can keep our eye on,” he said. “But on the other hand, when you see all those wheelhouses out there, sometimes that’s just families who are kind of ice-camping out there. As far as hard-core fishing, there’s some caveats to that when you’re measuring pressure, and that’s something we want to tackle, too.
“We’ll be able to keep our eye on that fishery and we are hoping for a good year-class for this next one coming up.”
The goal, he said, is to have a new area fisheries supervisor in Baudette within the next couple of months.
“I have no doubt that we’ll have a really good qualified candidate in that position,” he said. “Having a new supervisor there will help us plan for the future there, make sure Lake of the Woods is as strong as ever.”