Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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DNR alters Mille Lacs walleye harvest slot

Editor

Aitkin, Minn. The DNR announced last week that, effective this
past Tuesday, June 5, only walleyes between 16 inches and 18 inches
may be harvested and no trophy fish will be allowed on Lake Mille
Lacs.

Since the announcement last Thursday, the new Mille Lacs
regulation and its ramifications for anglers and the area’s
business community has been the hot outdoors topic on talk radio
and in print media.

The previous 2001 regulation allowed harvest of walleyes between
16 inches and 20 inches and one walleye over 28 inches in a six
fish possession. As of fishing opener weekend, anglers had
harvested 52,000 pounds of walleye, the highest harvest in eight
years, the DNR says. The high harvest continued through Memorial
Day weekend to bring the total harvest to 167,000 pounds as of last
Monday. That’s significantly more than the 135,000-pound threshold
that triggers a harvest slot change.

“Fishing has been the best it has been since 1992 and 1993,”
said Rick Bruesewitz, DNR treaty biologist. Angler effort on the
big lake since opener has been as high as the DNR has seen since
1993, Bruesewitz said.

By not implementing a tighter restriction, the DNR estimates
angler harvest would be more than 450,000 pounds by the end of
October. Such a harvest could result in a penalty reduction in the
neighborhood of 70,000 pounds of the walleye quota for Minnesota
anglers next year, Bruesewitz said. The state quota also will be
reduced next year thanks to the tribal quota increasing by 15,000
pounds next year from 85,000 pounds this year to 100,000 pounds in
the final year of the bands’ five-year phase-in of treaty
harvest.

On Friday, Bruesewitz told Outdoor News that Mille Lacs anglers
had released nearly 400,000 pounds of walleyes in 2000, including
350,000 pounds since opener.

The tribes have taken about 45,000 pounds of walleye so far and
have not been netting since the end of spawning season just before
the walleye opener. The tribal quota is 85,000 pounds. The bands
have until the end of March, 2002, to harvest their allocation.
Other than a few thousand pounds taken in the fall, the vast
majority of the tribal harvest has occurred via gill net in April
and May during the walleye spawn.

Bruesewitz said the DNR has heard rumors regarding the state
accessing the remainder of the 2001 tribal harvest, but has not
been in contact with the bands about such a possibility. In
Wisconsin, altered bag limits on treaty harvest lakes often
increase by June if the bands do not take their projected spring
harvest.

Even if the state could access part or all of the remaining
tribal safe allowable harvest, Bruesewitz said, managers would have
to spread it out over the remainder of the season. It would not be
enough, at least in the short-term, to alter the state’s new
harvest slot on Mille Lacs.

The U.S Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that fish and game in the
1837 Ceded Territory must be shared with eight Ojibwe bands from
Minnesota and Wisconsin. The DNR has managed the annual walleye
harvest at Lake Mille Lacs so it does not exceed 24 percent of the
total catchable population.

The previous 16- to 20-inch slot regulation had been formulated
during a meeting of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group in
January. During the annual meeting, the DNR provides the group
comprised of resort owners, fishing guides, bait dealers, local and
state government officials, tournament representatives and
representatives of angling groups with several options that lake
biologists believe will keep state anglers within their harvest
quota.

If angler harvest decreases to the point where it appears it
will not top the safe allowable harvest threshold, the agency has
not ruled out liberalizing the Mille Lacs regulation later in 2001,
said Steve Hirsch, DNR Fisheries program manager.

“If it looks like we can stay under the threshold, that’s
something we’d like to do, particularly for the winter fishery,”
Hirsch said.

Wave Wacker a go

The annual Wave Wacker walleye tournament will go on as planned
this weekend, according to Barb Herrick, of Herrick Enterprises,
who along with husband, Bill, coordinates the event. Participants
must abide by the new slot limit, but Herrick said she expects a
full field.

The weigh-in for the event occurs at Flagship Inn on the south
end of Lake Mille Lacs.

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