Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Tribal nets trapped in ice, go missing on Mille Lacs

Garrison, Minn. (AP) – A dozen gillnets set by Chippewa Indian
bands became trapped in ice floes and went missing last week on
Lake Mille Lacs, reviving the debate over tribal fishing on one of
the state’s premiere walleye lakes.

The 100-foot nets disappeared last Tuesday and Wednesday near
Garrison on the west side of the big lake, said Sue Erickson,
spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife
Commission, an intertribal agency that oversees treaty rights on
behalf of its 11 member tribes.

The Isle, Minn.-based Mille Lacs Messenger reported early this
week that the nets set from the south Garrison Bay access were from
Wisconsin tribes. There were no Mille Lacs Band nets caught in the
ice in Garrison Bay, according to Curt Kalk, commissioner of the
Mille Lacs Band Department of Natural Resources.

One Mille Lacs Band net had been stuck near the reservation pow
wow grounds, Messenger Staff Writer Vivian Clark reported. During
the recovery process of that net, Mille Lacs tribal conservation
officer Mike Taylor reportedly broke his ankle.

The unrecovered nets stirred hard feelings around the lake,
where some anglers and residents are still unhappy with a 1999 U.S.
Supreme Court decision affirming Chippewa hunting and fishing
rights in east-central Minnesota under an 1837 treaty.

Every spring, eight Chippewa bands, including two from
Minnesota, set gillnets and use spears to harvest spawning walleyes
in Mille Lacs. They set the nets in the evening and pick them up
the next morning.

Steve Fellegy, an angler who lives on the lake, said the missing
nets likely contain rotting walleyes that will go to waste. He said
the netters should have anticipated shifting ice conditions.

“There is the potential for reckless wanton waste of fish,”
Fellegy said. “At the end of 72 hours or four days, surely they’re
getting to the point of spoiling. An ungutted walleye doesn’t last
long on ice in a refrigerator.”

Rick Bruesewitz, DNR area Fisheries supervisor in Aitkin, said
the bands are responsible for collecting the nets, which could
present a “conservation” problem if left to drift for very
long.

“With a dozen nets, we would like to see that avoided,” he said.
“We don’t want ghost nets floating around all summer.”

Erickson said the band members would try to recover the nets
when ice conditions are favorable.

Netters ran into problems Tuesday and Wednesday when winds
shifted on Lake Mille Lacs, pushing ice floes into the western
shore, Erickson said. She estimated band members set 170 to 180
nets in Garrison Bay Tuesday evening and were tending them around 3
a.m. Wednesday when they got word that ice floes were moving
west.

“It came in fast and furious,” she said of the moving ice, which
she described as “dangerous” for people out there. “There were a
lot of people out there, folks and biologists and netters
scrambling for those nets. I would consider it an accidental type
of thing.”

Two other nets were lost the previous night under similar
conditions north of Garrison.

Tribal officials estimated two rescued nets contained about 40
pounds of walleyes each, which led them to subtract 400 pounds from
their quota for the 10 missing nets. As of Friday, band members had
harvested about 45,000 pounds of walleye out of their 122,500-pound
quota.

Charlie Rasmussen, public relations specialist for GLIFWC, said
more information is becoming available as the investigation
continues.

As of Monday, the total number of nets missing was tallied at 12
to 15 from the south Garrison access set on the April 29 and three
from the north Garrison access set on the April 28. Eight lost nets
had been recovered. In those nets a total of 29 fish were found in
healthy condition, weighing a total of 67 pounds.

“The warden took possession of those fish,” Rasmussen said.
“They were all fileted and taken to the Lac du Flambeau Elder
Center.”

The unrecovered nets are under investigation. No citations will
be issued until the investigation is complete. “We will make every
effort to recover those nets,” Rasmussen said.

Kalk compared the recent rumors of waste to hooking
mortality.

“The difference is every fish netted – alive or otherwise – is
accounted for and goes directly to the harvest declaration,” Kalk
told the Messenger’s Clark. “Hooking mortality is an estimate.”

The hooking mortality for 2007 was estimated at 126,788 pounds,
according to the DNR website. “The total tribal harvest declaration
for all tribes is less than the sport angler hooking mortality,”
Kalk said. “All of the fish in the nets – dead or alive – are
counted in the total tribal harvest.”

Fellegy said weather forecasters predicted the wind shifts, so
tribal leaders should have known better.

“It’s beyond comprehension that you have people in a supervisory
position, salaried by the government, making decisions like that,”
he said.

Opener access

Don Pereira, DNR Fisheries research manager, told Outdoor News
on Tuesday that his discussions with GLIFWC leadership suggested
that much of the tribal netting would be wrapped up before this
weekend’s state walleye opener. The spawn appeared to be on the
wane, and typically, interest in netting dwindles after the spawn
peaks. That said, neither GLIFWC nor DNR could rule out interest
among bands or band members to continue netting this weekend, he
said. Enforcement supervisors for both the state and bands would
likely be discussing protocols this week to avoid user conflicts at
the landings, he said.

In comments to the Messenger, Kalk said if the tribal harvest
backs up to the Minnesota walleye opener this weekend, the tribes
and GLIFWC have adjusted their creel survey protocol, Kalk
said.

“We will move out of the way to help reduce waiting times at the
accesses,” Kalk said.

Netters still will be allowed to net. They will be required to
follow all practices currently in place. However, in an effort to
reduce a back up at public accesses, when they pull their nets,
tribal netters will be required to place the net – fish and all –
in an enforcement vehicle, Kalk said. The conservation officers
will transport the fish and nets to a predetermined location either
on tribal or state land to finish the creel survey.

“We would like anglers to see the process of weighing and
measuring and all that, but we don’t want to be in the way,” Kalk
said.

The Associated Press, Mille Lacs Messenger, and Outdoor News’
Rob Drieslein
contributed to this story.

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