Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Tribal Fishing’s Impact

When treaties with Indian tribes were being signed, they often
explicitly guaranteed hunting and fishing rights. When the treaties
created reservations, they usually gave tribal members the right to
hunt and fish on reservation lands, but in many cases, treaties
also guaranteed the tribe the freedom to hunt and fish in their
traditional locations even if those areas were outside the
reservations. This has caused some concern for anglers in many
states in the upper Midwest where the highest courts have affirmed
the treaties and allowed up to 50 percent of the population of a
fish species in a ceded territory to be harvested by the
tribes.

The Pacific Northwest has also had its share of tribal fishing
concerns but the depletion of the salmon population has taken its
toll on the tribal harvest there.

So how much of an impact does the tribal harvest have on the
resource? Good question. It would seem the impact is more on the
attitudes of the anglers that use the resource than on the resource
itself.

In Minnesota, the tribes are allowed to string their gill nets
during the spawning period. Anglers find this to be horrendous. The
thought of harvesting a walleye that is in the midst of
reproduction is on the same level as whacking off the head of a
pregnant woman as far as anglers are concerned. The reason the
spawning period was chosen for netting was the ease of harvest. It
was thought that tribal netters could get on and off the lake
quickly and make their quota before weather turned mild, the
gamefish season opened and anglers covered the water. As harvest
levels rose this has not always been the case.

To protect a viable population of fish, special regulations were
added to the lakes that were netted. These slot limits seem to have
achieved the desired results and have provided consistent fishing
with more larger fish caught then ever before. Another result of
the special regulations is the release of a substantial number of
fish that are caught.

The netting is meant to mainly target walleyes, but quotas are also
set to deal with northern pike harvest. This has proven detrimental
to pike size structure, resulting in fewer large fish in the
system. This is due to the bigger pike being in the shallower
regions where the nets are set and rather than keep the pike, reach
the quota and have to quit netting for the season, the big fish are
allegedly tossed out to die and wash up to shore. Every year there
are rumors of big piles of pike dumped somewhere so they never make
it into the quota count.

Whether this is true or not, there has been a sharp decline in big
pike caught on Lake Mille Lacs where the bulk of the netting takes
place – resulting in a much wider slot to protect what few big pike
are left.

Is there an impact on the fishery? Sure there is. If there wasn’t,
the lakes and rivers that were being speared and netted – whether
they be on the Great Lakes, Mille Lacs, salmon rivers in the
Pacific Northwest or wherever – would not require the added
attention and special regulations that exist today. On the other
hand, it has forced anglers to release fish, which didn’t happen to
the extent it does today. Many people might not like the nets on
the water, but they aren’t going away soon. Just one of life’s
idiosyncrasies.

 

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