Brainerd Dispatch’s Zach Kayser reported on tensions between Committee members and DNR staff evident at the June 6 Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meeting.
One of the biggest issues was the request of committee members that there would not be another economically devastating closure of the walleye season. Bill Eno of Twin Pines thought “no closure” should hold even if state anglers surpassed the harvest limits negotiated with the tribes.
The DNR maintains that their data indicates a drastic decline in the vitality of the walleye population, with a lack of walleye of spawning age. Tina Chapman of Chapman’s Mille Lacs Resort & Guide Service questioned that premise. Disagreement about the state of the fishery remained unresolved.
Another issue was over the Committee also considering social and economic impact of the walleye crisis or just focusing on the walleye population issue alone. If the committee focuses just on the walleye, then it’s merely a “partial” tackling of the program that overlooks the social and economic consequences, according to Eno.
A tense moment came when committee member Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Koering expressed concern that the DNR moderator was steering the conversation too much. DNR facilitator Katie Clower quickly apologized and the discussion returned to the agenda. Jamie Edwards of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe also expressed hope for a “less divisive approach” going forward.
Meet the tribes
Kayser described the face-to-face interaction with biologists from Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission as a breakthrough for the committee. This helped offset months of Committee members criticizing the tribal approach to fishing on Mille Lacs walleye.
Committee members learned just how GLIFWC regulates fishing by tribal members. GLIFWC is a consortium between tribal governments that manages resources off-reservation lands on which the tribes have gathering rights. The commission does not have the authority to dictate what the tribes themselves do. Each tribe’s DNR-style agency manages reservation resources independently.
Also productive was learning that monitoring is primarily a tribal responsibility. A tribal warden and creel data team is present at all times during tribal fishing activity and every fish harvested is counted. Tribal counts are themselves sometimes subject to double-checks from observers sent by the DNR.