Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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MN: Treaty harvest down this spring on Mille Lacs

‘Fish In’ planned for Upper Red

Aitkin, Minn. – It’s been a long, drawn-out spring fishing season
for members of the six Ojibwe bands that net and spear fish from
Mille Lacs in central Minnesota, the 1837 Treaty area.

As of Tuesday, band members had taken just over 60,000 pounds of
walleyes, according to the state DNR and the Great Lakes Indian
Fish and Wildlife Commission. That included about 33,500 fish, said
Pat Schmalz, treaty biologist for the state DNR. The eight bands
were allowed 142,500 pounds this year.

Schmalz said there were a couple of “peaks” in netting around April
25 and May 3. “Then it dropped again right after that,” he
said.

Now, officials suspect the spring netting and spearing season is
nearly wrapped up for tribal members.

“I don’t know that we’ll see much more movement in these (fish
take) numbers,” GLIFWC’s Charlie Rasmussen said. “Things are
winding down.”

Rasmussen said, however, that it’s possible tribal nets could be
positioned in Mille Lacs when the state fishing opener begins
Saturday.

“It’s unlikely, but possible,” he said.

Rasmussen said if nets were, indeed, in the water, they’d be marked
with buoys at both ends of the 100-foot sets. Most are set near
shore, though some are cast over reefs.

“There could be a spearer out, too,” he said. “But (if tribal
members were fishing), there probably would be tribal warden
presence at the landing (or a creel clerk).”

The likelihood of tribal anglers being on Mille Lacs is lessened by
the fact that Mille Lacs members and Fond du Lac members (the two
Minnesota tribes that fish the lake) both have completed spring
fishing, Rasmussen said. (The Mille Lacs band usually reserves some
of its take for fall fishing.) Members of the six Wisconsin bands
must face travel costs (gas, hotel, and eating expenses) and loss
of work in order to fish the lake. Further, the 2011 catch rate
hasn’t inspired many anglers.

Rasmussen said tribal fishing effort on Mille Lacs, based on number
of net sets, was higher than last year.

“It was a matter of fewer fish being in the nets,” he said.

Weather conditions were the biggest contributing factor to limited
success; access was difficult because of a later ice-out, water
temperatures were lower than 2010, and wind challenged
netters.

State anglers are allowed a harvest (kill and release mortality) of
397,500 this year. Last year the state take was about 271,000
pounds. The protected walleye slot this year for state anglers is
18 to 28 inches when the season opens (one over 28 inches may be
kept in possession). The bag limit is four. The protected slot
changes to 20 to 28 inches July 15.

Schmalz said the tribal take of northern pike from Mille Lacs was
about 12,600 pounds; the tribal allocation is 15,000 pounds.

Upper Red “Fish In?”

Conservation officers in northern Minnesota are preparing for a
possible demonstration by Red Lake band members who could illegally
fish the state portion of Upper Red Lake, a day before the state
fishing opener.

According to an April 20 article from the Red Lake News, “First
Nations United will be helping Red Lake tribal members in the Fish
In and will be utilizing our sovereign right to set nets and fish
the day before the Minnesota Fishing Opener.”

The location was listed as Waskish (eastern Upper Red Lake of Hwy.
72).

“So come on up and support us,” the notice says.

A similar protest was held last year on Lake Bemidji by members of
the White Earth and Leech Lake bands of Chippewa, a treaty area
(1855) outside of the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

Capt. Jim Dunn, DNR Enforcement’s regional manager in Bemidji, said
it’s not expected to be a large event, but officers in the area are
aware, and will be prepared.

“We continue to monitor the information we have available to us,”
Dunn said earlier this week.

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