Wisconsin teaming with Minnesota, Michigan in separate walleye efforts

Fisheries managers have observed all-time low levels of walleye abundance at Lac Vieux Desert stemming from declines in natural reproduction. (Michigan DNR)

Wisconsin is in the middle of two walleye collaborations – with two separate bordering states – involving potential changes in regulations with one neighbor, and ambitious restoration efforts with the other.

According to reports, Wisconsin and Minnesota natural resources departments will hold five public input meetings in mid-May to kick off a multi-state review of bag and size limits for gamefish on the Mississippi River between Hastings, Minn., and the Iowa border.

The Minnesota and Wisconsin DNRs are working together on the review with an eye toward maintaining consistent regulations on the Mississippi River flowing between the two states, according to a recent Minnesota DNR news release. All gamefish species will be discussed, including sunfish, crappie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, white bass, walleye, sauger, catfish and yellow perch, the release said.

“We don’t have any specific proposals for changes to bag limits or size restrictions,” Kevin Stauffer, Lake City area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota DNR, said in the release. “But many of these regulations have been in place for 50 years, and we’d like to hear what people who fish the river have to say about them, and whether they think any changes are in order.”

According to the release, input gathered from the meetings, along with other fisheries data, may be used to develop recommendations for possible regulation changes agreeable to both states, the release said. After that, each state would need to go through its own official rule-making process, with additional opportunities for public comment. The earliest any changes might go into effect would be 2020.

The public meetings (6-9 p.m.):

  • Monday, May 14, Twin Bluff Middle School, 2120 Twin Bluff Road, Red Wing, Minn.
  • Tuesday, May 15, Wabasha-Kellogg High School, 2113 Hiawatha Drive, Wabasha, Minn.
  • Wednesday, May 16, Prairie du Chien City Hall, 214 E. Blackhawk Drive, Prairie du Chien, Wis.
  • Thursday, May 17, Wisconsin DNR Service Center, 3550 Mormon Coulee Road, La Crosse, Wis.
  • Tuesday, May 22, Winona Middle School, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, Minn.

Also, a collaborative walleye restoration effort between Wisconsin and Michigan is set to begin on Lac Vieux Desert – a roughly 4,000-acre lake that straddles the Wisconsin-Michigan border in Gogebic and Vilas counties, within the 1842 Treaty-ceded territory.

According to a Michigan DNR new release this week, fisheries managers have observed all-time low levels of walleye abundance stemming from declines in natural reproduction, prompting the drafting of a cooperative interagency walleye rehabilitation plan involving the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, Wisconsin DNR, Michigan DNR, Lac Vieux Desert Band, and Sokaogon (Mole Lake) Chippewa.

The goal of the plan is to restore natural reproduction and increase the density of adult walleye to at least two and 2.5 fish per acre, the release said. The plan includes stocking, coordinated population assessments, harvest management, public education and enforcement efforts.

When the ice retreats on Lac Vieux Desert this spring (anticipated within the next two to three weeks), a survey team of state and tribal fisheries professionals will hit the water to deploy trap nets that will help determine walleye abundance, marking as many adult walleyes as possible with fin clips. After the marked fish have time to mix within the lake, crews then use electrofishing along the shoreline to determine the proportion of the population that was marked.

Then, according to the release, the Wisconsin DNR will follow up with another netting survey targeting muskellunge, which are most effectively sampled a bit later in the year. Finally, crews will return to Lac Vieux Desert in the fall to determine if there was any natural reproduction by walleye in 2018.

If natural reproduction is low or nonexistent, Lac Vieux Desert will receive approximately 64,500 extended-growth fingerlings (6-8 inches) in October or November, courtesy of the Wisconsin DNR, as part of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative. The Lac Vieux Desert Lake Association also plans to again operate a portable walleye hatchery on the lake for fry production.

In addition to the netting and electrofishing surveys, the Michigan DNR will conduct an angler survey throughout the year in order to estimate angler effort, catch and harvest.

According to the release, anglers should be aware that recreational fishing regulations for walleye on Lac Vieux Desert (in Michigan and Wisconsin waters) are new for this year and include an 18-inch minimum and daily bag limit of three fish. The more protective regulations were put in place as part of the rehabilitation plan, the release said. Similarly, the Lac Vieux Desert Band and Sokaogon Chippewa agreed to refrain from spearing or netting walleyes on Lac Vieux Desert from 2018 through 2022.

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