By Joe Fellegy Outdoor News March 15, 2013

Catch-and-release fishing—anglers unhooking and letting fish go—is a given in Minnesota’s sport-fishing world. Live-release is positively embraced by conservationists, tournament pros, and plain-folks anglers. And it’s used by managers to influence fish numbers and sizes.

Outside DNR’s Mille Lacs treaty management and its annual “safe allowable harvests” (quotas), where is “hooking mortality” a big issue? When calculating walleye harvest at Mille Lacs, anglers are assessed estimated hooking-mortality—pounds of walleyes that die via release. Those thousands of guesstimated release-mortality pounds plus guesstimated pounds of kept walleyes equals total walleye kill by state-licensed anglers.

Think of it. Penalizing a sport-fishing community for practicing conservation—in this case releasing walleyes via regulation! The hooking mortality assessment adds to the hassle, debates over extremist regs, and even fear of possible shut-down at Mille Lacs under treaty management. Unbelievably, the more they’re forced to release, the more Mille Lacs anglers are punished!

A main premise of catch-and-release fishing is that most let-go fish live. They contribute to a fish population’s health and to quality fishing. Where, beyond Mille Lacs, must anglers and fisheries managers obsess and worry about minority percentages of fish that don’t survive catch-and-release?

Under extremist Treaty Fisheries Management at Mille Lacs, especially given this year’s slashed “safe allowable harvest,” there’s heavy focus on the hooking-mortality penalty, which could push state-licensed sport anglers over the precipice.

A 15-year exemption!

Why punish Mille Lacs sport anglers with a hooking-mortality assessment for practicing conservation? It’s got anglers, resorters, and DNR managers worried and uncertain over what should be a non-issue. It’s inexcusable and must end. I’d argue that the Mille Lacs sport-fishing community deserves a 15-year exemption from unnecessary and unfair hooking-mortality assessments.

After all, through 15 years of separate state and tribal fisheries and “co-management” at Mille Lacs, not a pound of mortality has been assessed on the tons of unwanted northern pike annually “released” by tribal gillnetters. Ask veteran tullibee netters (like me), or DNR fisheries biologists who use gill nets in fish population surveys. Given how toothy pike behave in gill nets—twisting and tangling, often with gills wrapped tightly in net mesh—fair-minded and honest folks might suggest a 50- to 70-percent mortality assessment on often-doomed “released” gill-netted pike.

Face it. Here’s a real conservation issue, not a contrived one like hooking mortality. Yet, it’s gone unaddressed with no release-mortality assessments. For 15 years, tribal managers and tribal harvesters, unlike state-licensed anglers and DNR managers, haven’t faced possible netting shut-down because of pike-release mortality, a legitimate conservation concern.

Mille Lacs led on release

Instead of being hit with unfair hooking-mortality assessments, Mille Lacs resorters and anglers deserve top-rate treatment—especially by state fisheries managers—for their history-making boost of walleye-release in Minnesota. In the early and mid-1980s they inspired a statewide revolution promoting release of keeper-size walleyes.

Mille Lacs resorters and anglers played a pivotal role in promoting release ethics and release-based management. What an impact! Hey, give ‘em some credit for millions of conservation pounds across Minnesota! And free ‘em from today’s hooking-mortality scam.

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