Agreement allows flexibility in Lake Mille Lacs walleye management
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
The Minnesota Department
of Natural Resources will move toward a less restrictive slot
limit and more stable regulations for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake,
thanks to a recent agreement with eight bands of Chippewa that
exercise adjudicated federal court rights in the 1837 ceded
The agreement, reached in
a mediation session, is a five-year plan to address overages that
occur when recreational anglers exceed the state's allotment of
the safe harvest level of walleye. It also establishes a limit on
the amount that angler's can exceed the state's share in any year.
The plan is now being formally adopted by the bands, many of which
have already done so.
According to the state's
five-year management plan, which corresponds with the five-year
harvest plan developed by the bands, the DNR will regulate
recreational walleye harvest with a 17- to 28-inch protected slot
limit and four-fish bag limit, with one fish more than 28 inches.
Since a 1999 Supreme Court
ruling affirmed harvest rights of bands on Mille Lacs under the
1837 treaty, total walleye harvest by bands and recreational
anglers has been limited to 24 percent of the lake's
harvestable-size walleye population.
"This plan was very
carefully crafted," said DNR Commissioner Allen Garber. "It allows
the state to continue to manage the Mille Lacs Lake walleye
population at sustainable levels while minimizing the impact on
the business community and providing the greatest opportunities
for our anglers. It gives us the flexibility to avoid in-season
regulation changes in most years, collect valuable long-term data,
and effectively manage walleye populations."
The new regulations will
be implemented in 2003. However, the current 14- to 16-inch
harvest slot will stay in effect throughout the winter fishing
Depending on feedback
gathered at December 3 meeting of Mille Lacs Lake Fisheries Input
Group (composed of local business operators, guides and other
interested parties), the new slot limit will go into effect at the
start of the open-water fishing season in May 2003 or when the
night-fishing band is lifted in mid June.
"We are going to listen
and make the decision in coordination with the people who live and
work in the area," said DNR Fisheries Division Director Ron Payer.
"Certainly, everyone looks forward to a less-restrictive slot
limit, but a conservative approach might be best in the first
month of the season."
The agreement reached with
the bands allows the DNR to combine and average years when anglers
exceed the state's allocation of walleye with years when the
anglers are under the states allocation over a five-year period.
It will also allow the state to apply the bands' unused portion of
their allotment, if any, to any overage.
The agreement includes
last year's harvest, when walleye mortality exceeded the state's
300,000-pound allotment by 73,000 pounds. Taking into account the
bands' unused portion of their allotment for the past year, the
remaining approximately 30,000 pounds will be applied against the
state allocation over the next five years, about 6,000 pounds per
"The key to this plan is
that total walleye mortality from recreational angling cannot
exceed the state's cumulative allocation over the five-year period
covered by the plan," Payer said. "This gives us a lot of added
flexibility in setting and maintaining stable regulations. In
addition, we will benefit from collecting data under stable
regulations and have a much better idea of what impact our
regulations are having on the walleye population."
To further protect Lake
Mille Lacs walleye populations, the DNR and the bands agreed on a
series of harvest caps that will be determined by the health of
the lake's walleye population as agreed to by the Minnesota 1837
Ceded Territory Fisheries Committee of state and band biologists.
If walleye populations are
considered healthy (condition one), the state harvest will be
capped at 30 percent over its allowable share of the safe harvest
level for any single year between 2003 and 2005. The percentage
drops to 22 percent from 2006-2007. Last year, anglers exceeded
state's share by 24 percent.
In years of less healthy
walleye populations (condition two), the state harvest will be
capped at 10 percent over its allowable share of the safe harvest
level for any single year. In years of poor population health
(condition three), the state cannot exceed its share of the
harvestable surplus. In the past 20 years, Lake Mille Lacs has
never been in condition three. Condition two has occurred three
times in the past 20 years.
The state will continue to
manage its fishery to remain within its share of harvestable
surplus. If walleye mortality due to recreational harvest appears
to be too high during the fishing season, a series of more
restrictive regulations will be implemented to insure anglers do
not exceed the state's allocation of walleye in an individual year
or across the five-year average.
"With this plan, we have
the ability to be more flexible with regulations and avoid
in-season regulation changes in most years," Payer said. "We feel
this plan does a much better job of providing a reasonable, stable
regulation while still addressing the rights of the bands in a
framework that protects the resource with sound biology."