Questions, resolutions brewing on Mille Lacs

Editor

St. Paul State anglers should know later this week what
regulation will exist for walleyes on Lake Mille Lacs during the
2004 open-water season.

Representatives from DNR Fisheries rendezvoused with the Mille
Lacs Fishing Input Group, a committee of local business owners,
guides, and anglers, last Wednesday to discuss possible regulation
scenarios for the big lake in 2004.

In the past, the Input Group has chosen its regulation at that
meeting, but this year, attendees requested a week to mull over the
options. A second meeting with the DNR was scheduled for Wednesday,
Feb. 11 to choose a regulation. The DNR commissioner will have the
final approval.

At last week’s meeting, DNR Fisheries pitched five possible
walleye regulations to the Input Group. They included:

Keeping the existing regulation, a 17-to 28-inch protected
slot.

A 20-to 28-inch protected slot.

A 14-to 20-inch harvest slot.

A 17-to 21-inch harvest slot.

Under all of those options, one fish longer than 28 inches would
be allowed in a four-fish bag.

A fifth scenario would start the season with one of the four
above regulations, but if the harvest remains low, the regulation
would switch to a liberalized 22-to 26-inch protected slot at the
end of the night-fishing ban on June 14. Typically, a large
percentage of Mille Lacs walleye harvest occurs between opener (May
15 in 2004) and the end of the night fishing ban.

State anglers may kill up to 380,000 pounds of walleyes
(including hooking mortality) on Lake Mille Lacs in 2004. Eight
bands of Minnesota and Wisconsin Ojibwe have declared another
100,000 pounds of walleye.

The DNR prepared a “scenarios of harvest” chart estimating
harvest under each of the possible harvest regulations under
different levels of effort and catch rates. Under low, medium, and
high levels of fishing effort, only the 17- to 21-inch harvest slot
showed a chance of topping the quota (400,000 pounds), and only
under a “high” level of effort. By liberalizing the regulation
mid-season, all four regulations showed the potential of topping
the quota under the “high” level of effort.

Fishing effort on Lake Mille Lacs was lower in 2003 compared to
the previous year thanks to an ample number of perch in the lake
that provided walleyes with natural forage.

Jack Wingate, DNR fisheries research manager, said the agency’s
first priority would be to retain the existing 17- to 28-inch
protected slot on Mille Lacs to retain consistency from 2003, but
Fisheries staffers realize that anglers would like to kill more
than 67,000 pounds of walleyes as they did last year.

He said Fisheries officials also were modeling several other
regulation scenarios that the Input Group had requested.

Asked if the 20- to 28-inch protected slot would result in high
harvest and mortality of the 2002 walleye year-class, which likely
will measure in the 10- to 12-inch range this year, Wingate didn’t
think so.

“We do not want to hammer that year-class, but we think there
will be more fish dying from natural mortality than hooking
mortality,” he said. “Under that scenario, if you gut-hook one of
those 10- to 12-inchers, then anglers have option of frying them up
instead of leaving them floating.”

Ed Lyback, a business owner on the south shore of the lake, said
he was leaning toward the year-round 20- to 28-inch protected slot
even though it seemed a little conservative.

“Personally, if we have to live with this five-year plan, I
don’t want to take a chance where we’re in an overage situation,”
he said. “That could happen fast depending on the baitfish and
young-of-the-year perch. I think we could have a pretty big eating
machine out here again in a year or so.”

Fellegy’s resolutions

Joe Fellegy, Outdoor News columnist and Mille Lacs Input Group
member, offered four resolutions at the end of the meeting for the
group to scrutinize.

Asked what motivated the resolutions, (shown in sidebar at
left), Fellegy said:

“I’m looking at the bigger picture. I think it’s intolerable
that a major sport fishery has to be turned upside down and
perennially run through a meat grinder socially, economically,
image-wise, and from a resource management standpoint because of
the presence of tribal harvest! This thing is way out of
proportion, way too costly on many fronts. Thousands of anglers and
Mille Lacs resorters know it’s unfair and over the edge. And many
are asking if this is really what state officials envision for the
future of Mille Lacs!”

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