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AWH

How Valuable are our Big Pike?

52 posts in this topic

I was reading over MN's long range management plan for large northern pike when I came upon a very interesting paragraph. It's really an eye opener to just how valuable ONE single pike can be.

The basis for length regulations protecting large northern pike has been research illustrating how large pike are very susceptible to over-harvest. Densities of large northern pike are comparatively low, with fish over 24 inches averaging only about 0.6 individuals per acre compared to densities averaging 9.3 individuals per acre for fish 14 inches and larger (Pierce and Tomcko 2005). The productive capacity of the fish declines rapidly as they get to larger sizes and older ages, yet recreational fishing by all methods tends to select for large, older pike that are the least productive part of the population. Production of fish age 6 and older was estimated to average only 0.1 pounds per acre per year in several north-central Minnesota lakes (Pierce and Tomcko 2003). This is a very low number and shows how large fish can be easily over-exploited. For perspective, it means that removal of only one 10-pound pike uses up the entire production of large pike in a 100-acre lake for a full year. In this example, removal of more than one memorable or trophy size fish would deplete several years’ worth of production.

Thought people would find this interesting. This paragraph happened to be on page 52 of this long range plan that can be found on the DNR website.

Aaron

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How long does it take a pike to reach 10 pounds?? Seems like a bunch to me. Specific waters which relate to slow growhth factors and low reproduction might encounter a scenario like this, but applying it as a general rule to all waters is rediculous. Am I the only one who observes many large pike in several bodies of water?

I think I need to research more before I can grasp this as factual. Brent

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Here is what one guy says.

Pike%20Growth%20Rate%20Chart.jpg

 Quote:
Northern Pike growth rates (larger view below) vary with lake type and forage base. Lakes with a wide variety of good forage fish will grow Pike faster and larger than lakes with average forage. In stunted lakes (yellow line), Pike grow for a few years, but age and die quickly from the constant struggle to find enough to eat.

All young Pike start out equal. They are opportunistic feeders that will happily feed on most minnows, crustaceans and almost any small game fish that crosses their path. This "puppy chow" type of forage is generally adequate in most lakes, so combined with an abundance of excellent spawning habitat, the stage is set for the production of lots and lots of young Northern Pike. In lakes with average growth rates, a Pike at age 4 is roughly 20 inches and by age 8 reaches the 30-inch range or about 10 pounds.

The privileged Pike that live in waters with lots of food have faster growth rates and the Pike at age 4 could be closer to 24 inches, while the 8-year-old can be upwards of 35 inches. In Minnesota today, any Pike that reaches age ten is a true old timer and could reach 40 inches or about 20 pounds. Today, these larger fish are near the end of the line and very few Pike grow older than ten years of age.

Stunting, the over-abundance of small fish occurs when one of the key elements is out of balance. Most common in our region are lakes that have an abundance of spawning habitat, but too little forage to support the huge number of Pike that these lakes produce. Before a lake can produce large Pike, the smaller fish must first reach a size where they can begin feeding on the larger forage species. The exact forage could vary from lake to lake, but typically Cisco, large Lake Shiners, Suckers or Whitefish come to mind. The point is that these fish need a "super size" meal to reach quality sizes. If their favorite foods are present, they’ll select those. If not, they’ll try to make do with whatever happens to be available. Picture what would happen to your waistline if you’d switch to a strictly T-bone and ice cream diet. If the smaller fish don’t have the chance to grow into the larger categories or if the better foods aren’t available, they get forced into feeding on the smaller forage species, moving constantly in an effort to get enough to eat. It’s enough to keep them alive for a while, but after a few years, even the small Pike begin to die of "old age". This live fast, die fast cycle is literally akin to "eating themselves to death".

Another roadblock in the search for quality Northern Pike is this fishes tendency to be it’s own worst enemy. At times, they’re just too easy to catch! Large Pike feed heavily making them an easy target for hungry anglers who are in turn, all too happy to remove them from their favorite lake. Over time, these larger Pike are over-harvested and the remaining smaller pike compete heavily for food and never attain adequate size required to help move them into the next feeding stage. So even "good lakes" can become over-populated with these stunted Pike. In the end, all too many folks go away with the impression that Pike fishing is just a waste of time. It’s a never-ending downward spiral and unfortunately, a lot of the trouble is our own fault.

You see, in most lakes, Pike are seated firmly at the top of the food chain, so it’s only us (anglers) who have ever removed these larger fish. Because of their aggressive feeding habits, the very presence of these larger Pike could have helped to remove smaller fish from the system. In turn, that would help reduce competition for food and increase the likelihood of more Pike reaching desirable size.

From a fisherman’s point of view, what needs to happen is that more anglers need to value and keep smaller fish for eating. At the same time, we (anglers) need to recognize the importance of returning medium size Pike to our lakes.

- Jeff Sundin

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It almost seems the DNR should be stocking ciscos and suckers not Northerns. crazy.gif

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merkman, thanks for the read. This makes sense and is explained well. I tend to fish very productive waters with extreme rates of growth. My findings are that these pike are consistent with the high growth rate tables. I fish waters that are susceptible to winterkills and growth rates can therefore be compared to known relative ages. Still, I beleive lakes should be managed individually. Brent

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Thanks for posting the articles. I don't quite understand the first article very thouroughly I'll have to look into that more or maybe someone could help explain it better. But I personally couldn't agree more with the second.

I think the main points in the second article are talking about the how the balance of the size structure of the Northern Pike is extremely sensitive in a number of bodies of water compared to other species.

However, I also currently believe this theory is true for a number of fish from sunfish to bass and walleyes up to Northern Pike and more. The reasoning for this is from some minimal personal experience and reading. When you think about it, the most abundant sizes for each species in a water would almost always be the smaller fish, and therefore the ones that put the most strain and competition with the food available in that specific water. Therefore when larger fish are harvested (in this case the 24" plust pike) it to a certain extent, I believe, leaves kind of a resistance to the growth of larger fish in the future. Or, in some cases possibly, the lack of harvest of smaller fish could also cause a similiar "out of balance" affect.

Also, I also wonder when certain species get out of balance (like the lakes with loads of stunted pike or bluegill or even bass or walleye for that matter) how it affects the other fish in the lake?

Just some personal opinion from someone who is definately not by any means an expert on this stuff, just real interested in it. Would like to hear others opinions too.

Also I personally don't think most statewide regs would be the best approach in most cases, and water by water would be best. However, the 24-36" slot for pike, I personally think this one could be a very worthwhile thing to be looking into.

By the way, "How Valuable are Our Big Pike," I say very much, and unfortunately I also feel that for most people they are very undervalued and underated compared to other fish.

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 Originally Posted By: fisherking01
merkman, thanks for the read. This makes sense and is explained well. I tend to fish very productive waters with extreme rates of growth. My findings are that these pike are consistent with the high growth rate tables. I fish waters that are susceptible to winterkills and growth rates can therefore be compared to known relative ages. Still, I believe lakes should be managed individually. Brent

I think this is a very good read along with the long range plan.

I think it is very interesting to see in the long range plan that angling takes more than double the fish than does spearing

 Quote:
Creel surveys have shown that spearers harvest northern pike at a rate similar to summer and winter anglers who are specifically fishing for pike, but because there are fewer spearers, spearing harvests have clearly accounted for fewer fish than angling. -Page 43

They go on to say:

 Quote:
Fish length and age data from creel surveys show that spearing harvests contain greater proportions of larger-sized and older fish than angling harvests -Page 43

I read this as a larger proportion of the fish taken by spearing were larger sized, but fewer numbers of larger fish than angling.

 Quote:
(Figure 7) (Pierce and Cook 2000)

Shows that angling (winter and summer) takes twice the number of fish than spearing does.

This is what is very interesting to me from the long range plan.

 Quote:

Where good natural habitat for northern pike exists, natural reproduction is usually not a limiting factor. -Page 43

 Quote:

In fact, a common phenomenon in many small central and northern Minnesota lakes is large numbers of small, stunted northern pike. From a fisheries management viewpoint, these populations are difficult to alter because they arise from some combination of over-harvest of large fish, a lack of appropriate-sized prey fishes, and habitat characteristics that fail to promote good growth. -Page 43

I also agree that lakes should be managed individually because there is no silver bullet.

1) over-harvest of large fish

2) a lack of appropriate-sized prey fishes

3) habitat characteristics that fail to promote good growth.

The DNR has a very hard job in managing these resources.

I do think that all fishermen/fisherwomen have a the task of being responsible in taking the larger fish. This is only one piece of the puzzle though.

The great thing about spearers being responsible in taking big fish is that have the advantage of "look and release" for the bigger fish which leads to a 0% mortality rate vs the 4.5% rate quoted in the long range plan.

 Quote:
Mortality of pike that are caught and released is relatively low, especially if the fish are not deeply hooked. A review of literature on hooking mortality (Tomcko 1997) found an average of 4.5% hooking mortality among six studies (mortality from j-shaped pike hooks, which are more lethal, was excluded). -page 43

As far as points 2 and 3 go:

I question when there are too many small northerns in the lakes, why does the DNR dump more northerns into the lake? It seems to me that when they do this they are increasing the competition for food of the smaller fish thus not letting them get big enough to eat bigger fish and get bigger.

I am not sure they have tried this but it seems to me that if they let natural reproduction take care of the fish breeding and instead concentrate on northern pike habitat and most of all food for them (ie stock prey fish) They would let the over abundance of the small northerns we have now grow to be big fish.

I say lets force feed all them little fishies and make them all GATORS!!!! grin.gif

It just makes far more sense to me than killing off all the little ones and having them replaced with more little ones through stocking or natural reproduction.

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I have a hard time grasping the article too. Someone can do a study to show there point of view for anything.

When spearing, we have a choice NOT to harm a large fish in anyway. Angling, you do not. When adding in deep hooked fish (not part of the data) and fish that are caught on hot summer days (I bet 30% do not make it)...the numbers of large fish killed compared to spearers is staggering.

Spearing CAN take large fish. But, so can everyone else. We all have a choice.

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 Quote:
Spearing CAN take large fish. But, so can everyone else. We all have a choice.

Sure, we all have a choice. But how many spearers out there let the big gators swim by? Unless the sport has changed a lot since I was younger, not too many.

The way I understand it, the importance of big pike is simple. Big pike will eat smaller pike (carnivorous) and keep the population in check. In turn, the small pike don't destroy the forage base, which allows other species to grow and reproduce (for example walleye). A large population of small pike, due to an absence of larger pike to keep them in check, destroys a fishery.

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How many of the same people that spear big norhterns in the winter catch and release the big ones in the summer? Not many, I think.

Catch and release is getting more popular, but don't fool yourself to think that it is the standard now. People that keep the big ones just don't talk about it. They is still a lot of people out to fish for a meal, not a sport.

This is a tough topic, I know. How many people keep the small crappies and throw the big ones back? How many people shoot the deer with the basket rack and let the massive rack go? Like I said, a tough topic.

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 Quote:
The way I understand it, the importance of big pike is simple. Big pike will eat smaller pike (carnivorous) and keep the population in check. In turn, the small pike don't destroy the forage base, which allows other species to grow and reproduce (for example walleye). A large population of small pike, due to an absence of larger pike to keep them in check, destroys a fishery.

This is the argument I don't understand.

I would think that a large northern (primarily females) will produce many more little northerns than they could ever eat.

That is how northern pike have survived evolution and are still around today.

If the little northerns are eating all the food in the lake and being stunted why not increase the amount of appropriately sized food available to them (i.e. stock appropriately sized bait fish) and let them grow to be big northerns? Maybe tighten the regulations on commercial fishing of rough fish? The rough fish (among other things) are what make the northerns big. (suckers, ciscoes, etc)

I just can’t seem to figure out how increasing limits on small northerns and limiting taking of big pike is going to solve the problem. All that I see happening is that the small fish will be taken and the large fish will restock the small fish though natural reproduction adding to the problem.

To put it into a farming analogy

If I had 1000 cattle and they were starving, I certainly would not invest my money in wolves to thin the herd. I would buy more hay.

Why slaughter the smaller northerns that are a couple of years on the way to becoming big northerns and replace them with 0 year olds? I will guarantee you that every big northern was once a small northern.

I may very well be all wet here, and I wish someone could explain it to me.

I still can't get my head around this one.

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 Quote:
How many of the same people that spear big norhterns in the winter catch and release the big ones in the summer? Not many, I think.

I agree

My point is that most spear-fishermen seem to target the big ones.

 Quote:
People that keep the big ones just don't talk about it. They is still a lot of people out to fish for a meal, not a sport.

I also fish for a meal sometimes, but that doesn't mean I can't be selective. If I have a boat/trailer and vehicle to pull it, and all the necessary license and fees, then I'm probably not in a position that I'm going to starve if I don't keep that big northern. You can be selective and still be out there for a meal. In fact, its going to be a lot easier to catch the smaller ones, since they are so much more numerous.

 Quote:
How many people keep the small crappies and throw the big ones back?

Here's where most hook-and-line guys are guilty of keeping only the big ones.....good point.

Sorry if I got off topic.....

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 Originally Posted By: Hammer Handle
How many of the same people that spear big norhterns in the winter catch and release the big ones in the summer? Not many, I think.

Catch and release is getting more popular, but don't fool yourself to think that it is the standard now. People that keep the big ones just don't talk about it. They is still a lot of people out to fish for a meal, not a sport.

This is a tough topic, I know. How many people keep the small crappies and throw the big ones back? How many people shoot the deer with the basket rack and let the massive rack go? Like I said, a tough topic.

This is very accurate. I will say, however, that overall spearers do harvest larger fish on average than anglers. Unfortunately, it's what gives us spearers a bad rap. I wish I could say that all of us as spearers were more conservation minded. Some certainly are. Others, not so much.

Take a look at the graph on page 43 of the following document.

http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/fisheries/muskie_pike/muskiepike_2020.pdf

This confirms what I have said before - as spearers, we are our own worst enemy. I'm not trying to point the finger at just ourselves as spearers. Because there are certainly anglers that have the same mentality. I just think it would be so much easier to change this mentality amongst ourselves, if for no other reason than the fact that we are so much smaller in numbers. If we were able to turn that trend around, we would have the facts to defend ourselves when people choose to go on the attack. Too often I see people saying that they don't spear the big ones and then the next minute are talking about the 10+ pounders that they took. Like I said, let's change that trend. Let's make it so that the facts support that spearers are the most conservation minded folks that are out there targeting pike.

Aaron

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 Originally Posted By: shooter_mcgavin
I agree

My point is that most spear-fishermen seem to target the big ones.

I agree to disagree.

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 Originally Posted By: AWH
Take a look at the graph on page 43 of the following document.

http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/fisheries/muskie_pike/muskiepike_2020.pdf

This confirms what I have said before - as spearers, we are our own worst enemy.

That graph is very misleading.

Notice how the summer anglers and winter anglers are separated into 2 groups. It makes everything look close to equal.

Imagine that graph if the summer anglers and winter anglers were combined. That is what the lake sees.

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The long range plan and associated literature cited has some great papers and interesting reading. Of all the fish managed in this state, I would bet that in a poll of area fisheries managers, the most difficult fish to manage for has to be northern pike. They get stunted easily, its hard to find them in large sizes, and as a cool-water fish, it is hard to grow them to large sizes without the right suite of conditions.

Did you know it has only been for about 25 years that the state has stopped winter pike rescue efforts? We used to be so obsessed with pike we didn't want to see them die when a lake winterkilled that we moved them to other locations and dumped them in. Talk about ingredients for stunting!

The reading and papers presented here are good, but be careful what conclusions you draw. You won't find a single fisheries management agency in the state stocking prey species. Pretty tough to make sure those prey species survive, are eaten exclusively by pike, don't introduce a disease, etc. Too many risky situations and if things fail its on the DNR and the license dollars used to fund the stocking.

I think the average angler can see just how important catch and release is for those big fish and what an ecological strain it is to remove a big fish, particularly from a small lake. I can remember my father talking about catching all these fish in the teens weightwise on this small, 100 acre lake. Today it's in full stunted mode. It's a nursery for small pike. Pretty hard to shift out of that state.

Just look at these old photos. Like I mentioned, it took the right suite of conditions to grow big pike like in the past, and with time mother nature could provide those conditions. Today, with how much we've changed the landscape and our bodies of water, it is pretty tough for a huge variety of reasons. The best we can hope to do is try to provide some protection from anglers with protected slots and pray for good forage, the right habitat and population densities, good spawning habitat, etc.

pf054680.jpgpf075526.jpgpf070261.jpgpf070452.jpg

pf069958.jpgpf054663.jpg

(All photos from Minnesota Historical Society)

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That last photo puts it into perspective!!

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 Quote:
To put it into a farming analogy

If I had 1000 cattle and they were starving, I certainly would not invest my money in wolves to thin the herd. I would buy more hay.

So you wouldn't harvest any? When you do, are you only going to slaughter the biggest, oldest animals? Eventually you're going to have too many cattle for the area in which they are confined, and you're going to have a trampled mud pit and unhealthy animals.

I read a very well researched post on the subject of the value of big pike quite a while ago. It was posted by screen name RK or something. Unfortunately, the search perameters don't allow me to go back and find a link to it.....

To a certain degree, stocking of baitfish might help. However I don't think it would justify the targeting of the biggest, most important fish.

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 Originally Posted By: merkman
 Quote:
The way I understand it, the importance of big pike is simple. Big pike will eat smaller pike (carnivorous) and keep the population in check. In turn, the small pike don't destroy the forage base, which allows other species to grow and reproduce (for example walleye). A large population of small pike, due to an absence of larger pike to keep them in check, destroys a fishery.

This is the argument I don't understand.

I would think that a large northern (primarily females) will produce many more little northerns than they could ever eat.

That is how northern pike have survived evolution and are still around today.

If the little northerns are eating all the food in the lake and being stunted why not increase the amount of appropriately sized food available to them (i.e. stock appropriately sized bait fish) and let them grow to be big northerns? Maybe tighten the regulations on commercial fishing of rough fish? The rough fish (among other things) are what make the northerns big. (suckers, ciscoes, etc)

I just can’t seem to figure out how increasing limits on small northerns and limiting taking of big pike is going to solve the problem. All that I see happening is that the small fish will be taken and the large fish will restock the small fish though natural reproduction adding to the problem.

To put it into a farming analogy

If I had 1000 cattle and they were starving, I certainly would not invest my money in wolves to thin the herd. I would buy more hay.

Why slaughter the smaller northerns that are a couple of years on the way to becoming big northerns and replace them with 0 year olds? I will guarantee you that every big northern was once a small northern.

I may very well be all wet here, and I wish someone could explain it to me.

I still can't get my head around this one.

I wish a biologist would come on here and explain this better, as I agree, it can be confusing on "why" it makes sense to harvest the smaller fish and let the big ones go. Yes, the big fish will spawn and create more small pike. But let's say that a 40" pike eats half a dozen smaller pike during the course of the year. That's half a dozen pike that will NOT spawn themselves. So not only do we now have less young of the year pike, but we also have that many fewer pike feeding on the small bait fish that are so valuable in the lakes.

Using another twist, if I'm out to get meat for the table. And pike are great on the table, better than walleye in my opinion! If I believe that one 36" pike will get me as much meat as three 22" pike, what would be better for the system? I am taking three spawners out of the system instead of one. I am taking three fish that are huge eaters of those bite sized bait that all of our pike, walleyes and bass are after. Or I could take one spawner out of the system that feeds on the larger prey in the system, including some of those smaller pike. For the good of the fishery, it just makes more sense to harvest the smaller fish. They are definitely much more plentiful, which I don't think anyone could argue with.

On the stocking bait question...I have heard this question asked of the DNR folks before and in short, their answer was that it just doesn't make sense when it comes down to it. Very, very costly. If they go this route, then they would have to create more hatcheries for suckers, fatheads, tulibees, etc. And as it works, this would then take away from the number of hatcheries that are used for walleyes and other species that are stocked on a regular basis.

A diverse and well balanced fishery is one that will never need to be replenished with forage. That's where we as users of our lakes need to respect the resource by practicing selective harvest, following limits, etc. Those are things that will help our lakes to remain well balanced. Once that gets out of whack, it's hard to get it back.

Not sure if I'm making any sense at all. Just trying to explain things in a less technical way.

Aaron

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please keep it civil Thanks

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But, the same goes for fishing as duck hunting and many other sports. The numbers and large fish are down do to over-fishing. I really don't think it is from "taking the big ones". Fish don't have the chance to get big for they are caught and kept.

Yes, big fish are important to a lake...but over-fishing and the destruction of lakeshore (weedbeds) have hurt many lakes (if not all in some way).

And I bet all the big northerns in the last picture were caught illegal and during the depression. My dad tells me storys of going to the lake in the spring with a wheelbarrow and pitchfork and filling it with big northerns for pickling so his family could eat.

Times have changed...and it is MUCH easier to get a fish nowadays (less fish and smaller...but our technolgies are more advanced).

If we ban using electronics for fishing, boats with large motors, reels that allow you to cast a mile, and some other advanced items...the fish population would skyrocket in a few years. crazy.gif

Will I spear and keep a big fish? Yes. Do I let some go without spearing? Yes. Will I catch and release all big fish I angle? No. Did I use to keep all big fish? Yes. Do I keep all big fish now? No.

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I understand that people think that spearing is all about getting the biggest fish. I believe thats wrong. The reason that i say this is becuase in order to keep a lake from gettin gover populated, fisherman have to take the smaller fish as well.

I myself on the other hand, always are looking to just see alot of fish, yes i do once in a while take a bigger fish, but perfer to take the 24-28 becuase there a better eatting fish.

I was talking with a guy that has been spearing for the last 5 days in a row, he has seen over 20 fish, and has only throw the spear one time. This is the point that i bring up, not everyone is out there to spear every pike they see, but to be able to go out and enjoy the fact that you can go out there and see all types of fish, and be able to enjoy that as well.

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 Originally Posted By: merkman

That graph is very misleading.

Notice how the summer anglers and winter anglers are separated into 2 groups. It makes everything look close to equal.

Imagine that graph if the summer anglers and winter anglers were combined. That is what the lake sees.

The graph isn't misleading at all. Obviously, spearers don't take more fish than anglers. The number of us that spear just aren't out there. But this isn't what the graph is showing. What the graph shows is the relative size distribution of the fish that are harvested by each group.

Aaron

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 Quote:

I read a very well researched post on the subject of the value of big pike quite a while ago. It was posted by screen name RK or something. Unfortunately, the search perameters don't allow me to go back and find a link to it.....

Not sure if this is what you were thinking of. But there was a good discussion on the matter here.

http://www.fishingminnesota.com/forum/ub...true#Post931850

Aaron

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