Treaty fishery subject of report by Sternberg


St. Paul Former DNR fisheries biologist and outdoors writer Dick
Sternberg has prepared a 27-page report scrutinizing the Minnesota
DNR’s treaty management strategies on Lake Mille Lacs.

Sternberg met with DNR Fisheries officials last week on the
matter, and presented the complete report on Monday to DNR
Commissioner Allen Garber, along with Reps. Mark Holsten and Bill
Haas, during a brief meeting at the State Capitol.

Sternberg conducted the review as a consultant to the landowners
litigants in the 1837 Treaty case. He reviewed DNR Mille Lacs
fishery data and scientific literature and says he familiarized
himself with treaty fisheries management, especially as it pertains
to Mille Lacs. The final report is called “Treaty Management:
Threat to the Mille Lacs Lake Sport Fishery.”

Sternberg believes that within the parameters of treaty
fisheries management, DNR underestimates the Mille Lacs walleye
population, sets unrealistically low quotas, and overly restricts
the sport fishery. He also thinks that the treaty management
structure on Mille Lacs, which has targeted mid-size walleyes for
several years, could foreshadow a crash of the lake’s forage base.
He says the DNR’s own gillnetting data from Mille Lacs shows forage
such as perch and tullibees at an all-time low. He, and others who
watch the lake closely, say that’s not surprising given the
regulations for Mille Lacs that protect big walleyes, northern
pike, muskies, and smallmouth bass.

“We need to go back to the bands and the Court and say, We have
a problem,’ and start harvesting bigger fish,” he said.

The treaty-management agreement stipulates that the safe
allowable harvest on Mille Lacs cannot exceed 24 percent of the
total poundage of walleyes in Lake Mille Lacs. Sternberg said his
research shows that rate averaged 23 percent in the pre-treaty
period, but only 15 percent since treaty management commenced.
Given that, he believes state anglers could harvest more fish, up
150,000 pounds more per year.

At the end of his report, Sternberg suggests several “common
sense” recommendations for change. He suggests that the Minnesota
DNR ask the Court to allow more flexibility in DNR management of
the sport fishery. He suggests a quota “range” rather than a
precise quota based on imprecise population guesstimates. Sternberg
says the DNR should be permitted to set management objectives and
slot limits geared more to biological realities in the fish
population. As the system works now, he says, size limits sidestep
biology and are aimed entirely at trimming pounds to satisfy a

On Tuesday, DNR Fisheries Division Director Ron Payer said he
had perused Sternberg’s report and still intended to read it more
thoroughly. Commenting on it, he noted that while Sternberg
believes the lake has too many big walleyes, DNR hears from the
bands that the walleye spawning stock is too low.

“We don’t agree with either, and we don’t think the lake is in
imminent danger if we don’t take bigger fish,” Payer said. “We
don’t think it’s in danger of collapse. We think the lake’s in good

Payer said the DNR agreed with some of Sternberg’s
recommendations in the report, including improving gill netting
sampling strategies, a ban on sorting fish, and while the agency
wouldn’t require barbless hooks on the lake, it believes in
promoting the concept.

Payer said the DNR doesn’t believe harvest levels in the 500,000
to 550,000-pound range (compared to 400,000 pounds in recent years
under treaty management) would be “sustainable.”

“We think over the long haul, that’s too much harvest,” he said.
“We’re trying to manage for the highest sustainable level of
nonband harvest.”

As for the forage situation, Payer said perch and tullibee
numbers historically fluctuate, but he acknowledged that the agency
is watching the situation closely. It already has announced a
shorter tullibee season for 2002 and won’t rule out possible
closing the Mille Lacs sport netting season if the numbers don’t
bounce back.

Sternberg will be presenting his findings at four seminars
during the Northwest Sportshow at the Minneapolis Convention
Center. Dates and times are as follows: Saturday, March 23, 1 and 4
p.m., second level meeting Rm. 212; Saturday, March 30, 1 and 4
p.m., Rm. 212.

Complete copies of the study are available by contacting Proper
Economic Resource Management at (763) 441-6968.

Joe Fellegy contributed to this report.

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