Hooking mortality was a hot topic at the DNR Mille Lacs Advisory Committee meeting in Garrison last week. The Star Tribune’s Tony Kennedy showed how DNR estimates of hooking mortality for walleyes is becoming a major source of frustration among resorters and related businesses on the lake. ‘Hooking mortality’ roils Mille Lacs policy.

Resort owners are adamant about avoiding another shutdown, and they are speaking up at the Advisory Committee meetings. They have questions about the model and data used to generate DNR estimations of hooking mortality.

The DNR believes current methods are “basically sound,” according to Tom Jones, the DNR’s regional treaty coordinator. But concerns about inaccuracy have led to a review and a new computer model, “but we haven’t vetted it yet,” he said.

Recent experience shows why hooking mortality estimates has become a critical issue. Kennedy reported that in 2015, 64 percent of the season’s walleye allocation was reached via hooking mortality. In 2014, the breakdown of walleye deaths was 54 percent from hooking mortality.

A major driver for the imbalance is the lake’s stringent bag limit (only one 18- to 20-inch walleye per angler in possession). Anglers’ endless catch and release to get a keeper only drives up hooking mortality. And the potential for mid-season shutdown.

The hot bite expected from the abundant 2013-year class walleyes (none are keepers) makes the hooking mortality that much worse.

Now, a growing contingent of Mille Lacs stakeholders is pressing for harvesting some of those fish. Committee member Steve Johnson of Johnson’s Portside said, “If people could keep one of those, they wouldn’t have to catch and release 100 or 150 of them.”

Committee members also heard from Karen McQuoid, a resort owner and a biostatistician from the medical device industry challenged the DNR’s models for making estimates. She explained how models were based on an assumption that all walleye were caught the same way. They ignored different mortality outcomes between live and artificial bait.

A number of alternatives were also aired at that Committee meeting.

The next Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee will be 5:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Izatys Golf Resort, 40005 85th Ave. in Onamia.

Doug Meyenburg

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