Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Joint legislative hearing looks at Sternberg report

Associate Editor

St. Paul Former DNR Fisheries biologist and angling author Dick
Sternberg warned legislators Tuesday of a potential crash in the
Lake Mille Lacs walleye population should the DNR continue with
regulations implemented under treaty management just a few years
ago.

Sternberg testified before two House committees along with a
viewing audience of more than 50 that a small slot in which anglers
may keep fish has led to a predominance of big walleyes in the lake
a population that’s negatively affecting the big lake’s baitfish
population.

“If we don’t right this (system of management), we could have a
crash on our hands,” he said. “And that crash could last for 10
years.”

Sternberg bases his predictions on data he gathered as a
consultant for a group of Mille Lacs landowners litigants in the
1837 Treaty case which was resolved three years ago by the U.S.
Supreme Court.

While both the DNR, which sets fishing limits based on vast
amounts of data gathered from the lake, and Sternberg agreed the
walleye population currently is high, Sternberg points to the
health of the fish due to less forage as an indicator of what could
lie ahead.

“There are skinny fish,” he said, pointing to recent DNR gill
net surveys. “Those are more prone to disease, have fewer eggs, and
are more easily caught. (Treaty management) has just created a
vicious circle.”

Sternberg said the sport angler harvest could be increased to
lessen pressure on baitfish, or larger fish could be targeted by
anglers to a higher degree.

DNR Fisheries Director Ron Payer disagreed with Sternberg’s
prediction.

“We simply do not believe the population is going to crash,” he
said.

Rather, he said, increasing the allowed angler harvest above
what’s considered a “sustainable” harvest for the lake could lead
to overharvest, and that itself could lead to long-term problems.
Payer said it’s better the debate over Mille Lacs is centered
around the fact that some believe the lake could withstand greater
harvest, instead of what to do about overharvest.

The meeting at the state capital office, jointly hosted by the
House Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee and the
Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, was viewed as
an educational opportunity by committee heads. No legislation
regarding Mille Lacs is expected this session.

In addition to several members of DNR Fisheries and Mille Lacs
landowners, the meeting was attended by tribal officials, including
Mille Lacs Band Department of Natural Resources head Kurt Kalk and
former band DNR head Don Wedll.

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