Spawner biomass a hot topic at 1837 meetings

St. Paul The amount of walleye spawning biomass in Lake Mille
Lacs has been a point of intense discussion during recent
negotiations of the joint state/tribal Treaty Fisheries Technical
Committee.

The committee, comprised of state DNR biologists and tribal
representatives, determines the safe allowable walleye harvest for
Lake Mille Lacs each year. It released the 2001 figure, 395,000
pounds, in mid-January.

The DNR told participants at Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group
meeting last week that it had presented a safe harvest range of
392,000 to 470,000 pounds of walleyes to the Technical Committee.
Meanwhile, according to the DNR, the tribal side had pushed for a
significantly lower harvest an overall cap of 270,000 pounds.

Both sides share gill netting, trawling, and creel census
reports, so the safe harvest estimates evolve from the same data,
according to Jack Wingate, DNR Fisheries Research Manager in St.
Paul. He said the harvest gap between the two sides stemmed largely
from a difference of opinion over what constitutes a safe amount of
spawners in the lake.

“There’s an honest difference among biologists in what we’re
seeing in the system out there,” Wingate said. “Band biologists
have argued that the spawning stock biomass is too low.

“Our stance has been that we’re watching this, but the overall
health of the walleye population on the lake is good.”

The two sides eventually reached agreement on the 395,000-pound
harvestable surplus for 2001 following what Wingate called “a
little bit of give on both sides.” For 2001, the bands agreed that
the harvestable surplus for the entire lake will fall into the low
end of the state’s harvestable surplus projections. The DNR also
told the bands that if the walleye brood stock drops below the
lowest observed biomass on record, the state will address it in the
2002 regulations, Wingate said.

“When we do our fall netting assessments and then plug the
numbers into various simulations, if spawning stock biomass drops
very low, we’ll take a stricter interpretation. If not, we’ll
consider being less restrictive.”

Neil Kmiecik, biological services director for the Great Lakes
Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, declined to comment in depth
about the bands’ concerns entering the Technical Committee hearing.
He noted, however, that the state’s assurance on the spawning
biomass in Lake Mille Lacs was a key part of the 2001
agreement.

“The main thing is that we have an agreement,” he said.

Eight Ojibwe bands, six from Wisconsin and two from Minnesota,
may harvest fish and game within the 1837 Ceded Territory, which
includes Lake Mille Lacs. Odanah Wis.-based GLIFWC provides
cooperative treaty resource management between the bands and
represents them at the Technical meetings.

The bands have pointed to the 1992 fishing season as an example
of overharvest and its long-term effects on brood stock, Wingate
said. That year, state anglers took more than 1 million pounds of
walleyes from Mille Lacs, which in the short term depressed the
number of walleyes in the lake.

“From our perspective, we believe it’s not atypical that after a
big harvest year, you’ll have a couple of years when the fishing is
not as good,” Wingate said. “Angling is self-regulating that way;
when it’s good, anglers come.”

Wingate stands by his Fishing Roundtable 2001 statements that,
for now, the walleye fishery in Mille Lacs remains healthy.

“We’d prefer to see year-classes somewhat stronger than what we
now have,” he said. “But it’s a good fishery with a good bite rate
and opportunity to catch good fish.”

For 2001, the fourth year of the five-year phase-in of tribal
harvest, the eight bands may harvest up to 85,000 pounds of
walleyes. That number is not contingent upon total harvestable
surplus; it would have remained constant at the 270,000-pound
level, had the Technical Committee recommended that total.

As reported in last week’s Outdoor News, the Mille Lacs
Fisheries Input Group crafted a 2001 Mille Lacs walleye regulation
based on the total state allowable harvest of 310,000 pounds of
walleyes. Effective May 12, state anglers may keep walleyes between
16 and 20 inches, plus one over 28 inches. The statewide
daily/possession limit of six walleyes still applies.

1854 meeting

DNR officials rendezvoused last week with the representatives
from the 1854 Authority to discuss resource issues within the 1854
Ceded Territory. At the meeting were Commissioner Allen Garber,
Special Assistant Kim Bonde, Assistant Commissioner for Operations
Brad Moore, Fisheries Director Ron Payer, Wildlife Resource Manager
Ed Boggess, and Enforcement head Bill Bernhjelm.

The Duluth-based 1854 Authority serves as an inter-tribal
resource management agency for the off-reservation fishing,
hunting, and gathering rights of the Grand Portage and Bois Forte
bands. The state meets periodically with the agency to discuss
resource management activities of the bands in the Arrowhead
Region, Moore said.

“We went over things like wild rice harvesting they have some
lakes they’d like to see posted closed until ready for harvest and
we asked for better data on what they net from Lake Vermilion,” he
said.

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