Mille Lacs Input Group resolutions seek change

At its sports show booths and elsewhere, PERM has been distributing a copy of four resolutions dealing with DNR treaty management of the Mille Lacs sport fishery. The resolutions received overwhelming approval by the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group in February.

The Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group is a citizen advisory panel whose membership, approved by the DNR, comprises a cross-section of resorters, fishing-related business and tourism people,and local government officials — representative of stakeholders in the Mille Lacs sport fishery.

Each winter, after Minnesota DNR Fisheries and tribal representatives on the 1837 Treaty Fisheries Technical Committee agree on annual “safe harvest levels” (quotas) for Mille Lacs fish species (most notoriously walleye), DNR summons its Input Group to a meeting. Input members are shown several size regulation options that would hold sport anglers below their walleye quota, provided DNR estimates and predictions are right. With biology, angler attitudes, and the Mille Lacs fishing economy in mind, Input Group members suggest which pill might be most easily swallowed.

At the Feb. 11, 2004, Input Group meeting, member Joe Fellegy suggested that the group demonstrate their “true feelings” and put forth some “real input” beyond the usual weighing in on slot limit options. Following a brief pitch, Fellegy offered four resolutions for consideration by the Input Group. He called the overall impacts of DNR’s treaty management a “too costly monster” and a “public relations disaster” for Mille Lacs.

Fellegy said, “I’m looking at the bigger picture. I think it’s intolerable that a major sport fishery has to be turned upside down and perennially run through a meat grinder — socially, economically, image-wise, and from a resource management standpoint — because of the presence of tribal harvest. This thing is way out of proportion, way to costly on many fronts. Thousands of anglers and resorters know it’s unfair and over the edge. And many are asking if this really is what state officials envision for the future of Mille Lacs.”

He also reminded the group that conservation and responsible management can go on without the specific treaty fisheries management program now in place. Also highlighted was the fact that court approval of a changed program does not imply reopening the big 1837 case dealing with tribal harvest rights. Rather, these are allocation matters involving harvest and management. A more moderate revised plan could be presented for approval by a federal judge.

Resolution One — State leadership must convince the court that change is necessary. The present system is too costly and must go! (This refers to DNR’s management of the sport fishery, with its system of quotas and frequently ultra-tight harvest restrictions that often change. No other Minnesota walleye lake with slot limits has the kinds of hard legal quotas, concerns about overages and underages, possible penalties, and a constant watch on forage abundance, length-distribution, hooking mortality, and the many factors that are always “under the microscope” at Mille Lacs.)

Resolution Two — In line with the 1837 Treaty, and taking a cue from the U. S. Supreme Court, and recognizing the unacceptable costs of state adjustment to “treaty rights” as things now exist, we urge the Minnesota governor and the state legislature to seek a new presidential order to extinguish the 1837 tribal harvest privilege. (This sounds pretty strong and would be politically challenging. But Article V of the treaty, mainly a land cession treaty, allowed the Chippewa the privilege of fishing, hunting, and gathering on the lands they sold to the U. S. — “at the pleasure of the president.” In its 1999 opinion, the Supreme Court suggested that a new presidential order could end the temporary tribal harvest privilege. Simply put, this resolution states that if Mille Lacs must endure the present system, without change, then go for the order!)

Resolution Three — There can be no more secret state/tribal Technical Committee meetings. At least two representatives (with two alternates in place), approved by the Input Group, must be allowed to attend Technical Committee meetings and major state-tribal management meetings relative to Mille Lacs. (Various suggestions for “outsider” attendees or observers have also included perhaps a couple media representatives, a non-DNR biologist, and maybe a couple legislators. Among other things, state and tribal biologists and managers on the Treaty Fisheries Technical Committee agree to the annual harvest quotas. Tons of Mille Lacs walleyes plus citizen harvest rights are on the table. And taxpayers fund both sides on the Committee.)

Resolution Four — There must be a full accounting of the costs (in dollars and time) incurred by state agencies, especially the DNR, in their years of accommodating treaty fishing and state-tribal co-management at Mille Lacs.

At a second meeting of the Input Group, on Feb. 18, all four resolutions were adopted, three of them unanimously, the other by a 32-to-1 favorable vote. Deputy DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten, Fish & Wildlife Director John Guenther, and DNR Fisheries Chief Ron Payer were present at the meeting. They heard Joe Fellegy say, “Themes of controversy and problems surround Mille Lacs all the time, no matter how good or bad the fishing!” Time will tell how state leaders respond to the Input Group’s resolutions!