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Mille Lacs: A risky move for a major lake

Wikimedia Commons/Todd Murray
Large walleye statue at Mille Lacs in Garrison, Minnesota

The following is an editorial from the Mankato Free Press.

Politics and wildlife management frequently conflict, and we suspect [the Aug. 9] decision by Gov. Mark Dayton to keep the Lake Mille Lacs walleye season open will backfire.

The risk goes beyond the potential overfishing this summer to the often difficult sharing of oversight of the iconic lake with Indian tribes, who voiced immediate disagreement with the governor’s decision.

There’s no dispute that the Mille Lacs tourism industry suffered last year when the lake was shut down early as the big lake’s walleye population crashed, and Dayton cited the economic impact of another early closing as partial justification for keeping the lake open. “I just couldn’t put them through that again,” he told the Star Tribune of the resorters.

But the tribes are unhappy with the decision. They and the DNR had agreed to limit the take off Mille Lacs to 40,000 pounds this year (four years ago it was a half-million pounds). Two-thirds of that quota, 26,800 pounds, was allocated to state-licensed anglers; the remainder was dedicated to the eight bands that have treaty rights to the lake.

The tribes are some 3,000 pounds under their quota. The anglers have blown past theirs at almost 38,000 pounds, even with this year’s new catch-and-release requirements.

The state claims that the key 2013 generation of walleye — the first generation in years to thrive — has been largely unaffected by “hooking mortality,” fish deaths caused by the mere act of biting the angler’s hook, and that therefore keeping the season open will not damage future spawns.

The tribes say the state has not shared that data with them, and dispute the conclusion. They warn that the decision to keep the lake open will prolong the fishery’s problems.

Regardless of the merits of the DNR’s analysis of the lake’s fish population, the deeper damage may be to the relations between the tribes and the state. The tribes have, it appears, kept their share of the bargain to preserve the fishery, and can justifiably feel betrayed by Dayton’s decision to renege on the limits. That betrayal may well echo in future dealings between the two sides.

Republished with permission.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Richard Adair on 08/17/2016 - 02:06 pm.

    Playing with fire

    The history of the relationship between the Mille Lacs Band and local fishing interests has improved greatly since the litigation by PERM a decade or so, which reached the US Supreme Court. In essence the 1837 treaty guaranteeing native fishing rights was upheld. Subsequently, all parties came to an agreement on harvest quotas based on recommendations by DNR and tribal biologists, and have respected these since. Everyone wants the lake and its walleyes to thrive. Why open old wounds?

  2. Submitted by Gary Lo on 08/17/2016 - 04:21 pm.

    Barbless hooks or pinch down the barbs

    I don’t know why the DNR has overlooked using barbless hooks. There are some states/provinces that mandate this, but it is not common place. The benefits of not having to rip a barbed hook out a fish’s mouth should be pretty obvious. I’ve fished a region in Canada where barbless hooks are required and didn’t seem to have any problem bringing the fish to the boat. The release of the fish was much easier and I’m sure much better for the fish. Most of my tackle has had the barbs pinched down or replaced with barbless hooks.

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