DNR: No decision yet about winter walleye season at Mille Lacs

Outdoor News staffer, Jason Revermann caught and released this 24-inch Lake Mille Lacs walleye during the 2013 ice season.St. Paul — DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr insists he and Gov. Mark Dayton are on the same page when it comes to Lake Mille Lacs.

Since the lake’s walleye-fishing season ended in early August, agency officials have declined to speculate on the possibility of a winter walleye season, saying they’d first need to evaluate results of fall assessments. Those are ongoing, and DNR and tribal officials will meet in mid-October to determine if a winter season can be held and what potential regulations might look like.

Last week, following an event unrelated to Mille Lacs, Dayton said he’d insist the lake be open for walleye fishing this winter.

“It’s crucial that there be a season and it be as generous in terms of limits and opportunities as possible,” Dayton said while speaking to reporters after an event at a St. Paul middle school. “I will insist there will be one.”

Landwehr spoke to Dayton the following day to ensure the two are on the same page. They are, Landwehr said.

Dayton doesn’t want to “override the process,” Landwehr said, but rather ensure the agency is as creative as possible in trying to provide as much opportunity for state anglers as it can.

“He just cares very much that the (Mille Lacs-area) businesses get as much traffic as they can by virtue of providing a season as liberal as we can,” Landwehr said.

He said the DNR would do what’s best for state anglers, but,
“We can’t guarantee at this point what that is … The range of options is dependent upon what the population assessment shows.”

One thing is certain: The timeframe for deciding on a winter season isn’t changing, Landwehr said. Once the assessments are done, state and tribal biologists will look over the results before the Oct. 15-16 meeting.

A meeting between the state and tribal lake managers occurs every October, but it’s not typically a regulations-setting affair.

“It’s different this time. We will use this meeting to get a recommendation on what the winter season should look like starting Dec. 1,” Landwehr said. “I’m hoping that within a short time after that October meeting that we’ll be able to outline what the season will look like.”

Though the DNR has said it won’t know until mid-October whether it would open Mille Lacs for winter walleye fishing, an internal planning document from mid-August says the DNR plans to “aggressively pursue” ice-fishing options by coordinating with local American Indian tribes to outline the best options for ice fishing on Mille Lacs.

When the DNR halted the walleye season in early August, owners of resorts and other fishing-related businesses on the central-Minnesota lake feared a massive drop-off in visits to the lake. In many respects, the winter season is even more lucrative.

DNR data from recent years show that anglers spend considerably more hours on Mille Lacs during the winter months – 1.5 million hours from last December through March compared with 337,000 hours during the open-water season – as reflected in the communities of ice houses that populate the frozen lake. But the walleye harvest in winter is consistently far less in pounds than during the spring and summer.

DNR seeks applications for advisory committee

People interested in being more actively involved in fisheries management on Lake Mille Lacs can apply to serve on a newly formed Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee. 

Committee members will be appointed by the DNR commissioner and will advise the DNR on fisheries management programs and related issues for Mille Lacs.

“This committee will play an important role in furthering the dialogue about Lake Mille Lacs and focusing on issues relevant to the state’s management of the lake,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “We want committee members and the public to have a more structured and participative process to provide meaningful input, with a goal of reaching a shared understanding with the DNR about issues and potential solutions affecting the Mille Lacs Lake fishery.” 

Members will be appointed to serve terms of at least two years on the committee. Membership on the committee will include a diversity of angling interests; local business and tourism interests; tribal and academic representation; and local county officials. To improve openness and transparency of technical discussions, two committee members will be asked to attend meetings of the state and tribal fisheries technical committee as observers.

The new committee will replace the Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group, which was formed in 1997 and consisted of citizens and business owners from the Mille Lacs area.

People who want to apply have until Thursday, Sept. 24 to submit applications. Information about the committee structure, functions, expectations of appointed members, and how to apply are available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake or by calling (651) 259-5221.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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