MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — State and tribal officials have agreed to slash the maximum walleye harvest from one of Minnesota's most popular fisheries, Mille Lacs Lake, by half this year.
Fisheries officials on both sides last week agreed to cut the total quota to 250,000 pounds, down from 500,000 pounds last year, Sue Erickson, spokeswoman for the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, said Monday. The quota will be cut in half for both sport and tribal anglers, she said. Sport anglers will be allocated 178,750 pounds while Ojibwe bands with treaty rights will get 72,250 pounds.
Studies indicate the lake's walleye population has been declining, and a survey based on netting data last fall suggested that walleye numbers were at a 40-year low, though the total kill by sport and tribal anglers has remained below the maximum targets.
The lower quota will likely result in anglers having fewer walleyes from Mille Lacs to eat, officials agreed, but key details remain to be resolved.
DNR fisheries chief Dirk Peterson said options to reduce the sport harvest could include a combination of reducing bag limits or changing size restrictions.
He said a technical group will develop proposals that will be presented to a group of Mille Lacs stakeholders, probably late in February. The DNR will take stakeholders' preferences into account as the agency develops regulations for the season, which probably will be issued in April.
Anderson said the bands will meet soon to decide how to allocate their share among themselves.
While the fish were biting well last summer, a shortage of smaller walleyes meant anglers could keep relatively few to eat because of the rule that all walleyes between 17 and 28 inches must be released. Peterson said one possible change is a shift to taking fewer but larger fish.
Peterson and Erickson noted that the bands and the state plan to conduct intensive tagging studies on the lake's walleyes and northern pike to get better population estimates. Another study should give them a better idea of whether predation on young walleyes by larger walleyes is having an impact, she said.
Erickson said this is the first time the tribes have agreed to cut their walleye allocation.
"Generally the allocation has trended upward, but in recognition that the fishery isn't doing what we had hoped it would, they're taking a reduction. And hopefully the further studies will help us get a better handle on the problem," she said.