Challenges grow for fall walleye stocking

State anglers, tribal fishers well short of 2007
open-water quotas

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

Redby, Minn. – As state and Red Lake Band biologists assess the
fish situation in Upper and Lower Red Lake, they do so knowing the
lakes’ massive walleye population was dented very little by state
and tribal anglers during the open-water season of 2007.

Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Bemidji, said
it’s likely angler harvest in the state portion of Upper Red will
be near 30,000 pounds, well shy of the 84,000-pound open-water
season quota.

Tribal harvest, meanwhile, remains at about 20 percent of the
tribal harvest cap of 1 million pounds and far below the ‘target
harvest’ of 414,000 to 826,000 pounds. But tribal harvest has taken
an upturn, due mainly to the opening of a fish-processing facility
in Redby and associated tribal commercial harvest, according to
Joel Rhodes, of the Red Lake DNR, who’s also involved in Red Lake
Nation Foods.

Still, tribal hook-and-line anglers have faced obstacles similar
to those of state-licensed anglers – windy weather, which on a
mostly bowl-shaped lake of 285,000 acres, isn’t conducive to
fishing from a boat.

‘There’s no escaping the wind,’ Barnard said.

In mid-July, the daily walleye limit for state anglers increased
from two to four fish. The 17- to 26-inch protected slot remained
in place.

Barnard said there was a spike in angler harvest right after the
change, but that tailed off. In fact, at the end of the month,
creel surveys will cease for now, because of the lack of angling
pressure.

During the open-water season, state anglers released about
192,000 pounds of walleyes, he said.

Tribal fish-processing

On Sept. 12, the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe re-opened a commercial
fishery meant to provide a boost to the local economy by creating
jobs at the plant and paying tribal anglers for their efforts. Red
Lake Fisheries will operate independent of Red Lake Nation Foods,
which is primarily the marketing branch for products produced by
tribal entities (fish, jams, wild rice), Rhodes said.

The Red Lake DNR has made available for commercial fishers about
400 coolers in which fish to be sold must be kept. Thus far, only
about 180 of the coolers have been used, Rhodes said.

‘We could approach 400 or more during ice-fishing season,’ he
said.

The Red Lake DNR recently laid out regulations for commercial
fishing, which for now is restricted to hook-and-line angling.

Other restrictions include:

A daily bag of 50 walleyes;

Commercial anglers must be registered with the Fisheries and
must have a cooler assigned to them;

Fish must come from Upper or Lower Red Lake;

Walleyes between 13 and 18 inches will be accepted at the
Fisheries;

Yellow perch over 8 inches will be accepted at the
Fisheries;

Party fishing is allowed.

Rhodes said if hook-and-line anglers aren’t catching enough fish
to meet demand – and keep the fish-processing plant productive –
that crews could be used to net fish, via either trap or gill
net.

‘Our first method is hook and line,’ Rhodes said. ‘We’ll stick
with hook and line this fall and winter to see what the potential
(catch) is. We know the potential is there to catch enough to
justify keeping the fish plant open.’

Further, during winter when weather is less of a factor, Rhodes
expects ‘Monday through Friday, a lot of people fishing.’

Netting might be better during the summer as the tribe attempts
to keep a level of harvest that avoids peaks and valleys in the
processing facility. Trap nets would allow for selective harvest,
should they be used, Rhodes said.

‘Ideally, we’d like to spread the harvest out over a 12-month
period,’ he said. ‘We’re trying to get to the point where we have
fresh walleyes at least 10 months of the year.’

Tribal fishing seasons will be from mid-May until the end of
October, and mid-December until the end of March or whenever the
ice is deemed unsafe.

The Redby fish-processing plant was made possible by a $1
million grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, according to the
Red Lake Band. Rhodes said future expansion isn’t anticipated, but
improvements are in future plans.

‘The capacity right now is more than adequate’ to process up to
800,000 pounds of walleyes (or more fish pounds, if other species
are included), Rhodes said. He said the facility may upgrade via
‘value-added’ equipment – a fish smoker, for example. The Band has
applied for a second $1 million grant from the Mdewakanton Sioux,
which would aid in purchase of equipment that would diversify what
Red Lake Fishery is able to offer customers.

Rhodes said the Red Lake Band will find out if that grant
application was successful next month.

Potential customers for Red Lake walleyes include restaurants,
website sales, or agreements with wholesalers, according to
Rhodes.

According to the Red Lake Net News website, Red Lake Fisheries
will pay tribal anglers $1.75 per pound for walleyes in the round.
Tribal anglers participating in subsistence fishing
(non-commercial) will only be allowed a possession limit of 10
walleyes; they, too, must abide by the Tribe’s protected slot of 18
to 28 inches.

There are no limits regarding the number of lines an individual
may use at one time, the website states.

Fall assessments

State and tribal DNR officials are in the process of evaluating
Red Lake’s walleye population, and soon will complete the process
of determining an acceptable harvest level for next year.

Depending on the outcome, Barnard said it’s possible
state-licensed anglers could see changes in the regulations for
their 48,000 acres of Upper Red Lake for the next open-water
season, in light of how many pounds of walleyes harvested this
year. He doesn’t expect the total allowable harvest – for the tribe
or state anglers – to change much.

Further, being far below the quota gives the state DNR greater
flexibility in setting regs.

‘It’s a good situation to be in,’ Barnard said.

Adjustments could include an earlier possession limit adjustment
(what occurred in July this year), a different slot limit (perhaps
a minimum of 18 inches), or altering the 50-50 allocation that’s
now in place for the winter and open-water fishing seasons, Barnard
said.

Following public meetings and DNR discussion, the DNR
commissioner will sign off on upcoming Red Lake regs.

Tribal walleye quotas will be based on their fall assessments,
as well.

New rule

During the first open-water walleye season since Red Lake’s
walleye rehabilitation project, state anglers during the summer of
2006 caught about 50,000 of walleyes; that winter, about 70,000
pounds were harvested.

Because of a change in state law, Barnard says the winter
harvest could be even greater (but remain under the quota, because
open-water and winter harvest may be ‘averaged’).

In the past, once an angler caught two walleyes (the possession
limit reverts to two on Dec. 1, 2007), he or she could legally
catch no more. Now, if an angler is spending a weekend on the ice,
he or she may consume the two fish caught one day, and legally fish
for walleyes again the next day.

Barnard said the rule change was mandated by the state
Legislature and gives anglers the opportunity to enjoy their catch
while on the ice.

The DNR is still working on regulation language specific to that
legislative change.

Categories: Hunting News

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