Mille Lacs walleye assessment under more scrutiny this time around

(Photo courtesy of Windigo Images)

ONAMIA, Minn. — The Minnesota DNR is netting fish on Lake Mille Lacs as part of the agency’s annual fall assessment.

The department’s work is under intense scrutiny because of tighter walleye regulations on the large central Minnesota lake in the last few years, Minnesota Public Radio reported. The survey’s data is expected to determine the harvest limits for next year and provide clues to the cause of the drop in the lake’s walleye population, according to the MPR report.

But area business owners say the lake’s walleye fishing has been plentiful this year.

Dean Hanson, owner of Agate Bay Resort and co-chair of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee, said he sees too many healthy fish in the lake to believe the department’s numbers.

“We know what we see on a daily basis, and we don’t believe the numbers,” Hanson said. “So that’s always been an impasse for us is they purely want to go with what their statistics show. And we say, ‘look at what we see every single day. It doesn’t jive with what your statistics show.”’

Tom Jones, a treaty coordinator for the department’s northeast region, said the fish are hungrier, which makes them easier to catch.

“We’ve seen the walleye go from real big, heavy walleye, and now there tend to be skinny walleye, which is why the bite is so good,” Jones said. “The walleye are hungry. So even though there’s fewer walleye, because they’re so hungry, anglers are finding them easier to catch.”

Department officials said outside experts will review the department’s science and management of the lake this year. Officials said they hope it will rebuild trust.

After the nets are collected, they’ll be taken to the department’s Aitkin office, where fisheries technicians will analyze the fish. Technicians will weigh the fish, determine their sex and count the number of eggs.

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