By Joe Fellegy Outdoor News December 23, 2011

Some folks misuse the term ‘fishery’ mistakenly believing a fishery is a fish population. A fishery, however, is way more than fish. It includes people. Without people who variously pursue and harvest fish, there is no fishery and no fishery management. Thus, fisheries managers deal with the interplay between a fish population (a bunch of fish) and people. With fish, it’s biology. On a fishery’s human side, there are culture and values—like sport, tradition, conservation, and even the mood of a place—plus fishing-related science, economics, politics, and law. And, given human nature, there’s also baloney and b.s.

I thought of the people factor, and how slate officials can crassly disregard it at the Dec. 12 emergency meeting of DNR’s Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group, a cross-section of Mille Lacs-connected fishing, tourism, and government folks, (They listen, learn, question, and comment in response to DNR’s latest revelations and proposals under Treaty Fisheries Management.) DNR’s presence there included area Fisheries personnel, Fisheries top dogs from St. Paul, and Ed Boggess, director of DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division.

Not one of them reached out to the group with even one sentence of empathy. Like, hey, we know it’s bad, Mille Lacs is caught in this never-ending mess, we feel your pain, we’re with you, and we want to help. And no message of outreach or support from DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.

The ongoing mess

Nobody can deny that the miles of tribal ‘subsistence’ gill nets on Mille Lacs spawning reefs and shoals each spring, plus the related “treaty fisheries management,” could win awards for the most bizarre, most culturally offensive, most costly, and most-challenging-for-managers fishing monstrosity on the face of Minnesota. Yet, amazingly, official indifference to legitimate citizen concern, anger, and frustration continues. (Journalists? Conservation activists?)

Recall that DNR’s fall fishing populations numbers prompted DNR communicators to issue a scary Nov. 3 press release about “long-term decline” in walleye population, especially on the male side. Because of below-average numbers of young perch, a favorite walleye food, we can expect good angling success. And given extremist workings of Treaty Fisheries Management, good fishing is always worrisome at Mille Lacs—especially now that the lake’s in Condition Three (!) under the present management.

The Fisheries Management is the state’s “adjustment” to the massive spawning-time gill net fishery that’s managed separately by tribal management bureaucracies, including the taxpayer-funded Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and eight tribal DNRs. Within the overall “safe allowable” harvests for walleyes and other species, there are separate harvest allocations for each side. The state’s walleye allocation varies annually. Depending on fish population survey findings.)

For state anglers and managers, the present Condition Three (nice jargon, eh?) means closer scrutiny of angler walleye harvests because there’s no wiggle room, no going over the allocation allowed. What’s next? Tighter regulations? Might DNR propose a saner management framework?

MLs’ fish data vs others’

Under the special management system at Mille Lacs, it seems every wiggle of the statistical needle becomes an issue and a public relations crisis for the sports fishery. This year’s lower-than-usual (for Mille Lacs) walleye numbers in DNR fall survey nets, and the predictable spin, sound ominous—like the populatio’s in severely bad shape, or too low to offer good fishing. DNR’s 250-foot standard assessment nets yielded an average of 9.7 walleyes weighing over 16 pounds per net lift, which, under treaty management, puts Mille Lacs anglers and managers in a tighter pickle—Condition Three!

Admittedly, numbers comparisons can be misleading. But I got curious. Assessment net lifts at Rainy Lake this past fall averaged 7.67 walleyes weighing 9.28 pounds: in 2010, 6.13 walleyes weighing 8.66 pounds; in 2009 5.79 walleyes weighing 5.92 pounds. At Kabetogama last fall, the average per DNR survey net lift: 7.25 walleyes weighing 8.88 pounds. As for leech Lake, DNR issued an Oct. 20 press release entitled “DNR test netting results show a strong walleye population in Leech.”

The average walleyes-per-lift there? Ah, 8.08 walleyes weighing 13.11 pounds, or about 20 percent lower than Mille Lacs.

Meanwhile, taxpayer dollars fund tons (yes tons) or glossy GLIFWC political literature—handouts at sport shows, state fairs, human rights events, and school classrooms—to advance and insulate “treaty rights” harvests, while demonizing citizen groups and others who dare talk about it. Hundreds of thousands of Legacy Amendment dollars fund Indian Industry spins through programs and projects—like the “Why Treaties Matter” traveling exhibit.

On the state’s side, there’s been no leadership, no outreach, no discernible politicking, or work to advance state and citizen interests. Of course, DNR Commissioner Landwehr did travel to Mille Lacs last summer—to bond with Mill Lacs tribal government officials. He got Gov. Dayton to appoint the Band’s DNR commissioner to the Minnesota Clean Water Council (which oversees the “clean water” third of State Legacy Amendment millions), where he will represent Minnesota’s tribal governments who are not accountable to the state.

Outdoor News
December 23, 2011

Read Rob Drieslein’s editorial here