MN: DNR to Mille Lacs input group: caution ahead

Group goes on record: ‘Business as usual’
unacceptable

St. Paul – DNR officials say the data presented to members of the
Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group this week brings with it reason for
caution, but shouldn’t raise concerns yet about more restrictive
fishing regulations.

Earlier this fall, department researchers announced a continuing
slide in the number of small male walleyes in the lake – fish they
say are targeted by the protective slot for state walleye anglers,
and those caught most often by tribal springtime gill nets.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet (about next spring’s open-water
walleye fishing season),” Dirk Peterson, the DNR’s Fisheries chief,
said this week. He said department officials would monitor the
winter catch of walleyes from the lake, which the DNR co-manages
with eight Chippewa bands, and make a decision this spring.

Peterson added that legislative changes last year give the
department more flexibility in making changes, if needed.

For this year’s ice-fishing season, the protected slot is 18 to 28
inches, with a four-fish limit and one over 28 inches allowed in
possession. That’s how, for the past few seasons, the May opener
has began, though the slot has changed to a less restrictive 20 to
28 inches during the summer, allowing anglers to keep a wider array
of fish.

Both Mille Lacs business interests and department officials have in
the past expressed interest in consistent regulations for the
lake.

Bill Lundeen, of Lundeen’s Tackle Castle not far from the lake, was
one of those who attended Monday’s input group meeting. For the
most part, he said, group members were treated to a presentation of
DNR data from the fall lake assessment.

“They (DNR officials) told us the (walleye) slot would be 18 to 28
inches (for winter), and we’d meet later to determine the slot for
the 2012 open-water season,” Lundeen said, adding that there was
“no big epiphany” during the course of the meeting.

For the most part, those at the meeting already had heard at least
a few details about the 2011 assessment, which, according to a DNR
press release at the time, said the net catch of walleyes was “the
second-lowest walleye abundance since the DNR large lake-monitoring
program began in 1983.”

The release went on to say the implications of the assessment
weren’t clear. Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe DNR Commissioner Brad Kalk
called the findings “concerning.”

State DNR officials will meet with Kalk and other tribal officials
in January to hash out state-tribal fish allocations for the
following year, based on co-management guidelines.

This year, state anglers were allowed a take of up to 397,500
pounds of walleyes; the estimated kill thus far has been about
230,000 pounds. Tribal netters this year were allowed 142,000
pounds of walleyes.

An input group resolution

Some members of the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group had another
reason to attend Monday’s meeting: to offer the department a
resolution proposed by some members of the group.

It read: “We, the (input group), formally request that the
Minnesota DNR draw on Minnesota’s legal and political resources,
and use its authority as primary manager of Minnesota’s natural
resources, to respond to the massive gill-netting of Mille Lacs
walleyes and pike, the only such spawning-time gill-net fishery in
the United States. ‘Business as usual’ is unacceptable.”

According to Eddy Lyback, of Lyback’s Ice Fishing, “We wanted to go
on record as not approving of what’s going on (with the gill-net
fishery).”

Lyback said the resolution, though presented at the meeting, likely
will have to be forwarded to DNR officials in St. Paul, as well as
state legislators.

Peterson said the matter would be “up for discussion within the
department.”

The resolution included “conservation issues,” such as “enormous
selective gill-net harvests of male walleyes,” “discriminatory
impacts on walleye subgroups the home to the same spawning areas,”
and “massive by-catch and kill of northern pike by walleye
gill-netters.”

The resolution also calls for greater transparency in fisheries
management and rule-setting, points out the costs associated with
treaty fisheries management, and agues the “disproportionate
allocations of Mille Lacs fish.”

The DNR has scheduled another meeting with input group members for
February.

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