Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Underage’ likely on Mille Lacs this year

Editor

Aitkin, Minn. Walleye catching rates during the first half of
June on Lake Mille Lacs this spring continued at a slower pace than
in 2002 .

Through June 15, state anglers had killed 47,903 pounds of
walleye, including 21,000 pounds attributed to hooking mortality of
released fish. Total harvest was about 27,000 pounds of fish
outside the lake’s 17- to 28-inch protected slot.

In 2002, total kill for the same time period was 213,192 pounds,
according to Rick Bruesewitz, DNR 1837 Treaty biologist. Harvest
typically is in the 250,000-pound range by that time, he added.
Bruesewitz said the 2003 estimate does not include night fishing
harvest from the second week in June. That total should be
available in the final June tally, he said.

A number of factors have played into the lower harvest tally in
2003, he said, including poor fishing conditions on the Sunday of
opening weekend, ample perch forage, which has stymied anglers, and
poor fishing weather, including a south wind that seemed to throw
the fish and anglers off kilter in mid-June.

“We’re hoping for a more normal weather pattern,” he said.

The total fishing effort of 200,000 hours for the first half of
June was slightly less than the historical average of 231,000 hours
(from 1984-2000) for that period, Bruesewitz said.

The total allowable harvest for the big lake in 2003 is 555,000.
That includes 100,000 for eight Ojibwe bands, who netted about
60,000 pounds during the walleye spawn in late April, early May,
and 442,000 pounds for state anglers. The state is making up the
8,000-pound difference as penalty for going over its quota in
2002.

Fishing writer and former DNR fisheries biologist Dick Sternberg
believes that given current harvest rates, state anglers probably
won’t kill more than 100,000 to 200,000 pounds of walleye, well
below the quota, in 2003. Since the state doesn’t receive credit
for “underages,” why shouldn’t the state open up the slot so
anglers can take more fish, he reasons.

He and PERM attorney Randy Thompson met with DNR Fisheries
staffers and Commissioner Gene Merriam on June 12 to discuss the
low walleye harvest on Mille Lacs. At that meeting, and during
separate interviews with Outdoor News, the state has been steadfast
in maintaining the current protected slot.

DNR Fisheries Research Supervisor Jack Wingate said resorters
have advocated for a more stable regulation and the state would
like to have a stable rule to monitor for at least two to three
years.

Wingate explained that any underage from 2003 will be divided by
the four remaining years in the state’s five-year plan with the
bands and can apply to state overages in those years.

“The underage does not allow us to go over in a future year, but
if we do, it gives us something to balance a future overage if one
should exist,” Wingate said.

For example, Wingate said, consider if there was a 160,000-pound
underage this year. Divide by four, and a 40,000-pound underage
could apply to each of the remaining four years in the plan with
the bands. That underage will not play a role in determining any
given year’s quota for the lake. But if that quota is say, 400,000
pounds and state anglers hit 440,000 pounds in a given year, then
the 40,000-pound remaining underage from 2003 could apply to the
difference for a net break even, Wingate said.

The DNR knows it will have some underage in 2003, but Wingate
said the agency isn’t interested in estimating a tally yet. He
added that the underage will wipe out the remaining penalty overage
from 2002, which was 8,000 pounds per year.

“From a logistical point of view, we’re better served to have an
underage,” Wingate said. “It gives us some breathing room for
coming years.”

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