From the Chairman
By Pat Doroff
Things sure got wound up this spring.
Who would have thought that a DNR Commissioner speaking to a group of sportsmen and concerned citizens at Mille Lacs Lake would have created such a fuss? By now it's old news, but we were honored to have Commissioner Gene Merriam address the crowd gathered for our Annual Spring Pig Roast at Mille Lacs back in April, 2003. As a result of his attendance at a PERM function and his use of the word apartheid in comments regarding separate laws based on race at Mille Lacs, several Minnesota Indian tribes formally asked the Governor for the Commissioner's resignation. The Governor and Commissioner each issued an apology, but the Commissioner was not asked to resign. The usual tribal supporters in both twin-cities papers trumped up the issue, each denouncing the DNR Commissioner and the Governor. Not surprisingly, the topic generated countless letters to the editors of the outdoor publications supporting the Commissioner and defending his remarks. I suspect the StarTribune and Pioneer Press received a similar flood of letters in support of the Commissioner, but I have yet to see one printed. You will find a few such commentaries printed in this issue.
Meanwhile, work continues on the important issue of fisheries management at Mille Lacs Lake. Data for May, 2003, is in and walleye harvest levels for non-tribal fishermen are way down. Anglers harvested 15,000 pounds and were charged with an additional 10,000 pounds of hooking mortality for caught and released fish for a total kill of 25,000 pounds. This compares to 87,000 pounds of total kill for the same period last year. If we continue on the present course, we may fall almost 200,000 pounds short of our allocation for 2003. Still, fisheries personnel at the DNR remain unwilling to consider relaxing the regulations for the remainder of the season. This measure would allow the harvest of some larger fish that are above traditional population levels. It would also take some pressure of the fish in the current harvest slot that are already well below historic population levels. Both results would begin to restore some balance to the fishery. It would also be helpful to local businesses, who depend on fishing related dollars, if anglers were allowed to keep a few more fish for the fry pan. After all our hard work to get the safe harvest level set to a more realistic number of 550,000 pounds of walleye, the DNR continues to punish the sportfishing community by imposing a regulation that will not allow anglers to come close to reaching those levels.
So the battle continues. PERM representatives will continue to meet with the DNR to make the case for the health of the Mille Lacs fishery and the sportfishing community. We need you to get involved. DNR staff has told us that they are not hearing any outcry from the sportsmen or area businesses about Mille Lacs this summer. They think everything must be going just fine. You need to send those e-mails, write those letters and make those phone calls to the Governor and DNR Commissioner. Let them know you think they can do better! PERM can interpret the data, make recommendations, meet with DNR personnel and try to influence public opinion. But if the policy makers at the Capitol don't hear from you, they will never change.
Finally, make sure your PERM Membership is current. We need your continued support. Get your hunting and fishing buddies to join too! A membership form is on the back page of this issue. If each of you just recruit one new member, it will make a big difference in how successful we will be!