Mille Lacs ice anglers get wider walleye slot

Editor

St. Paul The Minnesota DNR announced last week that effective
Dec. 1, 2001, Lake Mille Lacs anglers may keep walleyes between 14
inches and 18 inches, with one walleye over 28 inches in their
possession limit.

The announcement followed a meeting last Thursday between DNR
Commissioner Allen Garber and other DNR staffers with about 20
members of the Mille Lake Fisheries Input Group in Garrison. Eddy
Lyback, president of the Mille Lacs Lake Advisory Association and
an Input Group member, called the meeting “very positive.”

“I was very pleased with what the DNR said; they’re finally
taking an attitude to stand up in what they believe and stand up
for us a little bit,” he said. “I was especially pleased with Mr.
Garber’s attitude toward it. His presence meant a lot to us.”

The agency brought several messages to the Input Group,
according to Brad Moore, assistant DNR commissioner for operations,
who also attended last week’s meeting. While stressing that
protecting the resource remains the agency’s primary goal, the DNR
is committed to defending its data to the Ojibwe bands during the
January technical committee meetings. At the annual technical
committee meetings, the state and bands determine the safe
allowable harvest on Mille Lacs.

“We wanted to reinforce with the Input Group that we’re pretty
confident in our numbers and we’re going to stand by them,” Moore
said. “We’ll still look at the bands’ data, and if they bring
something to the table that we haven’t considered, we’ll look at it
very closely, but overall we think we’re doing a good job with our
numbers.”

DNR Fisheries Chief Ron Payer added that the DNR recently
contracted with private fisheries experts one from Alaska, and one
from the eastern United States to examine the state’s Mille Lacs
models.

“They gave us a preliminary assessment that by and large, we’re
doing a pretty good job,” Payer said. “These were some of the
nation’s best experts on modeling fish populations.”

Payer said the agency also intends to discuss with the bands the
possibility of bringing in a “nontechnical observer” to the
technical committee meetings. So far, only state and band
biologists have attended the meetings.

At last week’s meeting, the DNR also addressed the issue of a
more stable walleye regulation on Lake Mille Lacs, Moore said.
Mid-season adjustments of the walleye regulation on the big lake
have been a consistent sore point with resorters, businesses, and
anglers since the advent of treaty fisheries management.

Payer said the agency intends to present “a menu” of options for
Lake Mille Lacs that would include a consistent three-year
regulation. The drawback might mean a more conservative regulation,
and whatever the bands bring to the table for their next five-year
plan also would play a role in whether or not that’s feasible, he
said.

The DNR will meet with the bands in December to discuss their
next five-year plan. They still have given the state no indication
as to whether or not they intend to continue increasing harvest on
the big lake, Payer said.

The 2001 Mille Lacs walleye fishing season began with a harvest
slot of 16 to 20 inches, with one walleye over 28 inches allowed.
In early June, however, the agency tightened the harvest slot to 16
to 18 inches so that anglers would not exceed the state’s
310,000-pound walleye harvest quota.

With the tighter slot in June, the agency also changed the
provision allowing the harvest of one walleye 28 inches or larger
to a one-over-30-inch provision. Harvest slowed under the new
regulations, and the total state harvest so far this season
registers about 280,000 pounds. Anglers have released another 1
million pounds of the state fish in Mille Lacs this year.

Lyback, who owns an ice fishing business on Mille Lacs, said the
broader harvest slot definitely will help businesses on the lake
this winter.

“It seems to me that the DNR is getting more proactive,” he
said.

“They’re putting the resource first, but they are looking at
business side, too.”

Lyback also noted that the Mille Lacs Lake Advisory Association
now has collected 20,000 names on a petition to the governor that
it distributed earlier this year. He has been working with the DNR
and governor’s office in coordinating a meeting with the governor
to present them, he said.

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