Two-walleye bags raising red flags

Correspondent

Minocqua, Wis. Touted as a historic step forward in state and
tribal relations back in 1997, an agreement allowing the Lac du
Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians to retain funds
from fishing licenses sold on reservation lands in exchange for
assurances that spearing harvests on northern lakes named by the
tribe would allow state anglers a three-walleye daily bag limit
seems to have lost its teeth.

The April 1997 agreement, signed by then-DNR secretary George
Meyer and Tom Maulson, LdF tribal chairman at the time, assured
daily walleye bag limits of three fish on all 82 of the lakes
declared for spearing harvest by the tribe that year.

“The agreement we signed today reflects a spirit of cooperation
that I hope will continue to spread throughout our northern
communities,” Meyer said at the time.

Eight years later, however, the former DNR secretary said that
spirit of cooperation has diminished in light of the fact that some
of those “traditional” Lac du Flambeau spearing waters have dipped
below that three-fish limit this spring.

Tomahawk, Little Tomahawk, and George lakes in Oneida County and
North Twin and South Twin lakes in Vilas County stand at a
two-walleye bag limit this year. In Vilas County, Annabelle,
Catfish, Harris, the Presque Isle Chain, and North Turtle and South
Turtle lakes also have been tagged with two-fish limits.

“It was a clear understanding that LdF was going to use whatever
ability it had to in fact assert total jurisdiction over those
waters to the exclusion of other tribes,” Meyer said last week.

“The understanding of why that agreement took place was to
prevent the exact thing that has happened. In other words, they get
the benefit of the agreement and the bag limit gets lowered below
three. This is directly contrary to the spirit of the agreement
that was reached between Lac du Flambeau and the DNR.”

Mike Lutz, an attorney for the DNR who was directly involved in
the 1997 “three-fish bag limit for license revenue” negotiations,
agreed with Meyer that the “intent and spirit” of the agreement was
that LdF tribal spearers would make a good faith attempt to
maintain a three-walleye bag limit. Lutz said he believes Lac du
Flambeau has tried to hold up its end of the bargain, but
ultimately the pact was only drafted between the state and the LdF
tribe.

“Flambeau agreed they would not spear at a level that would
result in a bag limit of less than three, but there is nothing in
that agreement that precludes other tribes from those same lakes,”
Lutz said.

“Flambeau agreed to use their best effort to keep other tribes
from declaring those lakes and spearing on those lakes, but even at
the time we signed the agreement we recognized that Lac du Flambeau
didn’t have absolute power to keep other tribes from spearing on a
given lake,” he said. “It was their intent and I have no reason to
believe they didn’t try to keep other tribes from spearing, but if
other tribes insist under the protocols established by the federal
court after treaty rights litigation Lac du Flambeau did not have
the right to keep another tribe from spearing on lakes Flambeau
spears on.”

Looking at the entire picture the agreement is still working,
according to Lutz, because there are still a large number of lakes
speared exclusively by Flambeau that remain at a three-fish
limit.

In the case of Lake Tomahawk and Little Tomahawk, this was the
first year that Lac du Flambeau did not declare either of those
lakes, and the Mole Lake tribe stepped into the void, according to
Carl Edwards, one of Lac du Flambeau’s representatives on the Voigt
Intertribal Task Force, a constituent committee of Great Lakes
Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The Voigt task force formed in 1983 after the Voigt Decision,
which validated the hunting, fishing, and gathering rights of the
Lake Superior Ojibwe, and consists of representatives from each
affected tribe, including Mille Lacs in Minnesota.

If Lac du Flambeau had declared Lake Tomahawk for 2005, spearing
harvest levels would have been set at 384 walleyes, Edwards said.
That would have resulted in a three-fish bag limit. Instead, Mole
Lake declared 739 fish on Lake Tomahawk, dropping the bag limit
from three to two.

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