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December 10, 2002
Press Release


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 territory.

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 season.

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 year.

"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."


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