PERM to fight for sportsmen in treaty fisheries management process!

Negotiations in the treaty fisheries management process are underway for lakes within the 1837 Treaty area, for both the 2002 fishing season, and the next five-year management plan (2003-2007). This past December, the PERM Board of Directors launched plans to challenge the process between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and eight Chippewa Bands, in order to obtain a more equitable solution to natural resource management.

According to PERM Board member Howard Thurber from Wahkon, "It is clear from the turmoil over the past four years, with new regulations each year, even mid season regulation changes at Mille Lacs Lake, that the process does not work. The local fishing related economy at Mille Lacs is suffering from all the uncertainty and constant change. Many anglers, particularly those from out-of-state, are choosing to go elsewhere. When planning their vacations, they want some certainty about what the fishing regulations will be. Anglers want to know if they will be allowed to keep a few fish to eat."

There is a great deal of skepticism among area resort owners, avid Mille Lacs fishermen and concerned residents, about the biological data and computer models that fisheries personnel from the Band and DNR use to project fish populations and safe harvest levels. There is also concern about an allocation formula that allows a handful of tribal gill netters to harvest up to 50 percent of the harvestable fish in a lake for a few thousand tribal members, and leaves the other half for the million-plus non-tribal anglers in Minnesota. "We are hearing that people feel the DNR is not fighting hard enough for a solution that is fair for everyone" said Thurber.

In the 2002 fishing season, tribal netters will be allowed 100,000 pounds of walleye from Mille Lacs Lake, in addition to 50 percent of the harvestable surplus of perch and northern pike. A new five-year management plan was to be submitted to the Minnesota DNR by the end of 2002. This plan will control fisheries management at Mille Lacs Lake starting in 2003.

At press time, it was not known what harvest levels the Chippewa Bands will be seeking in the next plan.
PERM has chosen to hire a biologist to examine the data being used at Mille Lacs to determine what,if any, flaws exist in the data and computer models, as well as how the regulation-setting formulas may be flawed. Doug Meyenburg, Jr. of PERM said, "We hope to be able to have a positive impact on the regulations being formulated for the 2002 fishing season."

As for the new proposed five-year-plan, PERM expects it may have to seek relief at the Federal District Court, which maintains continuing jurisdiction over the issue of 1837 Treaty rights. This would be done by a court challenge from the Landowners who are parties to the original 1837 Treaty lawsuit. "If the State and the Bands insist on a management plan that is not a great improvement over the one currently in place, if harvest declarations continue to increase by the Bands, PERM is prepared to force the issue back into court in order to find a more equitable way to share the natural resources in the 1837 Treaty area with the Ojibwe people." said Mark Rotz, former chairman of PERM. "If DNR negotiators can not come up with a new plan which is less confusing, less restrictive on anglers, and more equitable for area resorters, we might as well roll the dice in Court. We can’t do any worse, and we stand a reasonable chance of convincing the Court to impose a stricter restriction on tribal interests. We will argue that the Bands have not demonstrated an economic need for such high levels of harvest, and that the hardship imposed on the community at large by tribal netting and spearing, require that tribal harvest levels be limited to what they can demonstrate is needed for their religious and cultural needs."

PERM Board member, Lisa Mueller pointed out that by taking this action, PERM hopes to accomplish two things. She said, "We will be armed with the facts and information needed to challenge the process in court. And we also hope to put pressure on the State of Minnesota, and encourage them to take a stronger stand for their constituents as they deal with the tribal governments on treaty harvest issues."