Walleye overage’ plans?

The Mille Lacs fishery and its management were on the program at
the Minnesota DNR’s 2001 Minnesota Fishing Roundtable held in St.
Cloud on Jan. 5 and 6. This annual gathering of representatives
from the state’s fishing community is hosted by the DNR to discuss
fishing issues and the direction of sport fishing and fish
management in the state. Topics this year included a range of
fishing issues, from bag limits to tournaments to gross violations
and their penalties.

Mille Lacs was on the Roundtable’s formal agenda. Jack Wingate,
from the Fisheries Research section at DNR headquarters in St.
Paul, presented a talk entitled, “Mille Lacs: Where are we going in
the future with this fishery?” Wingate spoke about various aspects
of the Mille Lacs sport fishery, especially those pertaining to
treaty fisheries management. He offered the Roundtable some basics
about Mille Lacs within that context.

The Mille Lacs fishery is “very healthy.” The present impressive
size distribution of walleyes in the lake lots of fish in the 17-
to 25-inch range is due in large part to a succession of good
walleye year-classes in the 1990s. This nice-fish size picture will
probably continue “for some time,” especially with variations of
continuing slot limits.

The 2000 Mille Lacs walleye sport fishing harvest, based on the
management year Dec. 1 to Dec. 1 (including last winter’s harvest)
was 226,000 pounds, which included 29,000 pounds last winter. An
estimated 198,000 pounds were angler-harvested during the
open-water season. These numbers include the estimated harvest, or
fish kept, plus an amount factored in to account for fish mortality
after release.

Thanks to stringent regulations, the 2000 season was the first
one in four years of the treaty management process that anglers
came in under the annual walleye quota imposed on them 73,000
pounds under a 300,000-pound allocation.

DNR estimates that during the 2000 fishing season (from Dec. 1,
1999 to Dec. 1, 2000) Mille Lacs anglers released 211,000 walleyes
weighing 615,000 pounds. (Each year angler “keeping” of walleyes is
partly restricted with some kind of size regulation in order to
keep them under their quota. The regulations, which are changeable
from season to season, require the release of some walleyes, even a
lot of them in some years.)

Of a tribal allocation of 70,000 pounds of walleye in 2000,
about 47,000 pounds were harvested by those Chippewa enrollees who
participated in the (mainly) spring gill net fishery which focuses
on the period right after ice-out. The tribal allocation for 2001
is 85,000 pounds, allowed under a five-year phase-in plan presently
in place. The year 2002, with a tribal Mille Lacs quota of 100,000
pounds, is the fifth year.

In the past four years (1997-2000), Mille Lacs anglers harvested
about 240,000 pounds over their walleye allocations. The state’s
goal for a five year average is to be “right where our allocation
is.” (Allocations are set after the joint state-tribal treaty
fisheries technical committee meets in January. A Mille Lacs “safe
harvest” level for the combined tribal and sport fisheries is
determined by the technical committee. The Bands’ annual allocation
(rising annually in 15,000-pound increments from 40,000 pounds in
1997 to 100,000 pounds in 2002) is subtracted from the safe harvest
level to determine the sport fishing share of the allowable
harvest.)

In 2000, a contingency plan for “in-season corrections” was
established.Via the annual on-going creel survey, fisheries
managers consider sport fishing harvest data on May 31, June 15,
June 30, and July 15. If the pace of the harvest is ahead of
schedule, and there’s danger of exceeding the quota, then a more
stringent regulation would be applied.

The first three years of treaty fisheries management were a
“grace” period wherein state fisheries managers could fine-tune
their handling of data and their management approaches. Starting in
2001, the state will operate under an “overage plan” (not yet
firmed up as of mid-January). If annual quotas are exceeded
significantly in 2001 and down the road, penalties would be imposed
on the sport fishery for the coming year.

As an example of how an overage plan might work, Wingate used
1998 as an example. That year angler harvest was 157,000 pounds, or
71 percent over the allocation. Under an overage plan being
considered, a penalty would apply the year after any overage above
20 percent. If, for example, there was a 157,000-pound overage last
season, and the allocation for this season was 300,000 pounds,
“we’d be down to about 140,000 pounds before we started fishing
because we went so far over our allocation in the previous
year.”

(Editor’s note: The Digest heard other DNR sources talk about
possibly using half a year’s overage as a penalty, and not the 100
percent used in Wingate’s example. No final overage plan(s) had
been adopted or approved at the time of the Minnesota Fishing
Roundtable in early January, or prior to the Mille Lacs Input Group
meeting in late January. As for 1998, the main reason for the sport
fishing overage was a gross underestimate of the fish population by
the DNR, which resulted in a low angler quota for 1998.)

Some DNR fisheries personnel said that given the contingency of
in-season regulation changes if angler harvest is ahead of the
anticipated pace towards its quota, it would be unlikely that
significant overages would occur in the future.

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