Brainerd, Minn. The 1837 Ceded Territory Fisheries Committee
unveiled a total safe harvest level of 480,000 pounds of walleye
for Lake Mille Lacs during the 2004 fishing season.
This year’s safe harvest level, agreed to by the Technical
Committee, composed of tribal and state biologists, meeting in
Brainerd Jan. 21 and 22, checks in at 70,000 pounds less than the
tally in 2003.
DNR Research Manager Jack Wingate said the 2004 safe harvest
level reflects poor survival of walleye fry and fingerlings during
2000 and 2001, when food sources were scarce in the lake. Those
fish, currently 14 to 18 inches in length, represent the lake’s
future spawning stock, and they’re in relatively low supply.
Based on the tribes’ five-year management plan for Lake Mille
Lacs, the 2004 tribal quota is 100,000 pounds of walleye, which
will be allocated among the eight Ojibwe bands. Last year, the
bands had their best fishing year to date, netting more than 70,000
pounds of walleyes during the spring spawn.
The state allocation for 2004 is 380,000 pounds of walleye. That
compares to 450,000 pounds in 2003. The total safe allowable
harvest in 2003 (including the tribal quota) was 550,000
Last year, state anglers killed 67,000 pounds of their available
quota, of which about 30,000 pounds was attributable to hooking
mortality. Despite the lower allowable harvest in 2003, the DNR
believes it can increase the actual harvest by allowing state
anglers to bring home more fish in the 18- to 20-inch range,
A strong forage base of yellow perch in the lake in 2003 created
a tougher walleye bite than in 2002, when anglers released millions
of pounds of fish to comply with the slot on the lake. Wingate
noted that despite that so-called “tough bite,” anglers still
released a half million pounds of walleyes in 2003.
He also said he expects the walleyes will be more interested in
anglers’ offerings in 2004.
“What’s the bite going to be like?’ That’s the million-dollar
question we ask ourselves every year,” Wingate said. “I don’t
expect as tough a bite as last year. We won’t see what we had two
years ago, but I think that forage has been cropped down some.”
Ron Payer, chief of the Minnesota DNR Section of Fisheries, said
the agency intends to liberalize its regulations to “provide the
greatest angling opportunities while staying within the
Wingate told Outdoor News on Tuesday that can only mean one
thing: allowing harvest of larger fish.
“That’s the only choice we have. Now that doesn’t mean 21s and
22s,” he said. “There’s a good number of 18-, 19-, and 20-inch
fish, and that’s the direction we’re going to have to look.”
The DNR will determine the specific regulation during a meeting
with the Mille Lacs Fishing Input Group next Wednesday evening.
Rick Bruesewitz, 1837 Treaty biologist in Aitkin is preparing “a
suite” of potential regulations to present to the input group next
Population modeling on Lake Mille Lacs has shown a “gap” of
walleyes in the 14- to 18-inch range thanks in part to pressure
from state anglers (and past harvest slots), tribal netting, and
the low abundance of the 2001 and 2002 walleye year-classes. Those
fished were preyed upon heavily by larger walleyes in 2002 when
other forage sources were very low.
Neil Kmiecik, Biological Services director for the Great Lakes
Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, said, “Tribal and state
fisheries biologists are dedicated to maintaining and refining a
comprehensive and reliable database for shared treaty fishery
lakes, and are committed to protecting a healthy and sustainable
fishery and fish populations. The bottom line while setting harvest
figures is to maintain a spawning stock biomass for each species
that guarantees the ability of each species to reproduce.”
The Technical Committee established the following safe harvest
levels for 2004 for Mille Lacs Lake: 270,000 pounds for yellow
perch; 23,000 pounds for northern pike; 24,000 pounds for tullibee;
and 28,000 pounds for burbot.