Fish expert is keynote at ’16 DNR Roundtable

St. Paul — A glimpse of the agenda for this year’s DNR Roundtable event, slated for Friday, Jan. 15 at the Earl Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, reveals that many of the topics broached last year remain relevant as the new year arrives. Deer, elk, groundwater, and northern pike regulations all will be discussed this year.

And whether Gov. Mark Dayton unveils a bombshell similar to his “buffer initiative” that was announced at last year’s event remains to be seen.

What’s known is that Lake Mille Lacs – that 130,000-epicenter of fisheries management debate in central Minnesota – will be cast into the spotlight this year, as it will be the subject of discussion during the “plenary” morning session around which all attendees will gather.

Regarding Mille Lacs, “We’ll be looking at it from the perspective of it being a complex issue, a complex system,” said Dave Schad, DNR deputy commissioner. Not only will the lake be discussed from a scientific standpoint, he said, but also from a social one.

One of those called upon to examine the Mille Lacs “situation,” where walleye fishing closed last August (it reopened this winter) due to sport anglers’ exhaustion of their allocation of fish, is Jim Martin, who leads the Berkley Conservation Institute for Pure Fishing, which is part of Jarden Corporation.

Schad calls Martin “well traveled and well respected” in the fishing community. 

According to its website, the BCI is dedicated to preserving fishing habitat and sustainable fisheries, as well as maintaining and creating fishing access for present and for future fishermen and women.

“The BCI was developed to support conservation and angler-recruitment efforts,” its website says. “We cooperate with fishing groups, conservation organizations, customers, and other industry partners to protect our fishable waters.”

Martin formerly spent 30 years with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, six of them as chief of Fisheries.

Schad describes the Mille Lacs session as an opportunity to “step back” to examine “how did we get here?” 

The DNR announced several changes regarding Mille Lacs in 2015, including possible walleye stocking, a station set up on the lake to monitor Mille Lacs and provide public information, and proceeded to appoint former fisheries supervisor Roger Hugill as point man for Mille Lacs matters.

The Roundtable afternoon and evening

Come post meridiem, Roundtable attendees will have to make a choice between subjects related to fish, wildlife, or ecological resources.

Here’s what each will highlight:

• Wildlife – Whitetails and the state’s deer plan; elk and future goals for the species, including a plan to possibly re-introduce them in northeastern Minnesota, an undertaking being studied now by biologists with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; an update on the state’s new “pheasant action plan” (the first report card offered by the DNR); and the state’s proposal regarding nontoxic shot use on state wildlife management areas.

• Fish – An update on the state’s proposed “northern pike zones” plan, something discussed at last year’s event; an update on management plans for bigger water bodies in the state, including Lake Superior, Leech Lake, and Red Lake; a discussion about the DNR’s plans to expand muskellunge in state waters; and banter about issues surrounding aquatic habitat.

• Ecological/water resources – Groundwater issues; a presentation regarding the mining picture in Minnesota (taconite and non-ferrous metals); an update on the state’s buffer initiative mapping process; and the state of aquatic invasive species in the state.

Schad said there’d also be some informal evening conversation, including the “back-porch” fisheries discussions, and a “monarch mixer” for both eco-waters and wildlife interests.

The DNR Roundtable at one time was a two-day affair, though for the past couple years it’s been pared to a day.

“It’s a full day, and we think it’s about right,” Schad said. “It’s easier on staff, it’s easier on people traveling from out of state,” and it’s easier on the DNR’s pocketbook, he said.

While Gov. Dayton attended to make his buffer announcement last year, attendance by him or by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith hasn’t yet been confirmed, Schad said.

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