’04 Fishing Roundtable covers multiple topics

Contributing Writer

St. Cloud, Minn. The 14th annual Minnesota Fishing Roundtable,
hosted by the DNR in St. Cloud last Friday and Saturday, tackled
about a dozen fishing-related subjects ranging from the status of
Red Lake’s walleye recovery and the condition of Lake Superior’s
fishery to DNR’s new “toolbox” for simplifying special
regulations.

This year’s Fisheries Roundtable was held concurrently (but
mainly in separate quarters) with the Wildlife Roundtable, sharing
a joint session with that group early Friday afternoon, and one
with the Wildlife and Ecological roundtables Saturday morning. The
separate Fisheries sessions on Friday and Saturday spanned more
time and topics than last year’s abbreviated budget-crunched
roundtable.

DNR Fisheries Chief Ron Payer introduced the Fisheries
Roundtable. Presenters and speakers included DNR professionals and
non-DNR fishing activists and organization representatives.

Reports included an update on long-range and strategic
management plans for southeast Minnesota trout streams. (A list of
recently-announced special regulation proposals for more than two
dozen streams, plus a detailed story, ran in the Dec. 26 Outdoor
News. Watch continuing reports on the public input process and
final regulation announcements.)

Information from the Fisheries Roundtable:

Red Lake walleyes. Henry Drewes, DNR’s regional fisheries
manager at Bemidji, pointed to “tremendous progress” in restoring
the Red Lake walleye fishery. He called it “exciting” and a “great
bargain,” noting that three walleye fry stockings (in 1999, 2001,
and 2003) costing about $60,000 each, will result in 48,000 acres
“almost another Lake Winnibigoshish” of prime Minnesota walleye
waters. That’s the Minnesota portion of Upper Red Lake, or about 20
percent of the entire Red Lake complex.

All of Lower Red and the rest of the upper lake lie within the
Red Lake Indian Reservation, more “closed” and with less state
jurisdiction than Minnesota’s other reservations.

Following the walleye fishery’s collapse in the 1990s, tribal
commercial gill net fishing ended in 1997, tribal subsistence
netting in 1999. Also in 1999, Minnesota imposed its angling
moratorium.

Drewes observed that before the state reopens walleye fishing in
2006 “daunting” tasks remain, like the structuring of enforcement
and management plans, including the formulation of safe harvest
quotas.

Red Lake walleye anglers should expect regulations tighter than
the statewide limit of six with one over 24 inches. Drewes said
that as DNR biologists draw up Red Lake management plans they will
review pros and cons in “the Mille Lacs experience.”

Experimental regulations study. In 1994-95, LCMR (Legislative
Commission on Minnesota Resources) authorized money for an
evaluation of special regulations, those outside the normal state
angling rules. Evaluation tools include angler creel surveys and
fish population monitoring. The purpose: to learn what works and
what’s ineffective.

The study sample involves 38 lakes and 41 regulations (minimum,
maximum, and protected slot regulations, as well as “no kill”
rules) for walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth
bass, and black crappie. End dates for regulations on some sample
lakes are now arriving, with more slated through 2008. Some
preliminary findings: minimum size limits on Big Stone (14 inches)
and Lac qui Parle (15 inches) failed to benefit the fisheries and
resulted in “stockpiling” small fish under the minimum size limit.
But a 16- to 19-inch protected slot apparently upped walleye size
in Farm Island Lake (Aitkin County).

Mille Lacs. “The walleye population is “healthy,” reported Jack
Wingate, DNR Fisheries research biologist who presented a Mille
Lacs report. He said Mille Lacs walleyes are back to their
traditionally chunky condition, thanks to an abundance of forage,
especially young perch from the 2002 and 2003 year-classes.

During the hot bite of 2001-2002, forage-starved walleyes were
thinner than usual. Wingate said that 14- to 18-inch walleyes are
in unusually short supply, but that two younger walleye
year-classes (including what looks like a near-record 2002
year-class) are entering the picture. Large walleyes are
exceptionally numerous.

Although anglers caught an estimated 558,000 pounds of walleye
in 2003, they killed only about 66,500 pounds (well below their
450,000-pound quota), thanks especially to a 17- to 28-inch
protected slot limit. Wingate suggested that a more liberal slot
limit will greet Mille Lacs walleye anglers on the fishing opener
in May.

After state and tribal biologists meet on Jan. 21-22 to set a
walleye safe harvest level for 2004, and following a meeting of
DNR’s Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group in early February, the 2004
Mille Lacs regs will be announced.

Accelerated Walleye Program. (See Tim Spielman’s story, Page
1.)

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