As strange as it may seem, the vast majority of sportsmen in Minnesota have never seen a gillnet. Gillnetting gamefish had not been allowed on inland waters in Minnesota for decades. Now, in the era of Indian treaty rights, once again Minnesota’s premiere walleye lakes are being assaulted by the nets.

For generations, anglers have accepted the need to refrain from targeting spawning walleye. Fishing seasons are closed to protect the fish during the spawn. Yet, despite tribal assertions that certain fish populations are suffering from a lack of “spawning bio-mass”, tribal gillnetters and spear fishermen are allowed to harvest year-round, with the majority of harvest taken during the spawning period.

This gillnet was pulled to shore in the spring of 2000 after having become entangled in a crappie fisherman’s anchor on Mille Lacs Lake in east-central Minnesota. The net contains ninety-eight walleyes, in different stages of decomposition, still attached to the net. According to Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission personnel, the net had been lost by tribal netters for about a month. For thirty days or so, this net kept catching and killing fish.

While setting gillnets is not necessarily easy, or always fun, it is recognized as a highly effective harvest method under the right circumstances. That’s why it was not allowed for gamefish in Minnesota. Fish populations simply could not withstand such effective methods of harvest. Most cultures have historical ties to the practice of using nets to catch fish. The apostle Peter fished with nets. Generations of Americans grew up in fishing villages from coast to coast. Yet, at some point, often to late in some instances, many of these traditions and a way of life, were abandoned to protect our fisheries. It’s time the vast majority of Indian people, who share a deep concern for our fisheries, demand that their tribal governments put an end to gillnetting gamefish and spearing during the spawning period.