Joe Fellegy gets it right

Mille Lacs fish fiasco: Give the human side overdue attention!

By Joe Fellegy – Outdoor News, Feb. 6, 2013

Joe Fellegy doesn’t hold anything back. He starts out like this:

Fish and fishing people comprise a fishery. Without people there is no fishery. Given the ongoing turmoil at Mille Lacs—traditionally our “premier walleye lake” but now, increasingly, the controversy capitol of Minnesota fishing—state leadership better rescue both fish and people from the quagmire. They owe us. After all, back in the 1990s miscreants in state government helped dig the Mille Lacs hole. And seemingly indifferent state personnel have maintained it. Last year the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group passed a resolution asking DNR officials to use state legal and political clout to end the mess. Have they?

Fellegy gives state leaders, along with “would-be conservationists, academics, and journalists” a well-deserved jab, because they “turn blind eyes and even run for cover from the Mille Lacs monster.” And worse, they “callously overlook the human element, the thousands of people trapped … by walleye gillnet harvests and by ‘treaty fisheries management’…”

Even more significant, is Fellegy’s fresh take on the Mille Lacs situation as a moral issue. He brings up the principle of “the Double Effect.” This refers to a set of ethical criteria in which the permissibility of acting when one’s otherwise legitimate act (for example, recognizing treaty harvest rights) will also cause an effect one would normally be obliged to avoid (for example, trashing the Mille Lacs walleye fishery and local economy.)

At what point would the ethics of “double effect” come into play? Fellegy shows how it already has.

The DNR? Not yet. Why not? Because they use a very narrow interpretation the Supreme Court’s ruling. In the DNR’s interpretation, the DNR cannot object to “specific methods of take, ethics, or fair chase.” (DNR letter to the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group, January 24, 2012.) Or more plainly, “Our hands are tied. And, there is no elephant in the room.”

The advantage of a very narrow interpretation? It comes with a lot of politically correct—and politically expedient—cover. Downside? A premiere walleye fishery destination is depleted, with a local economy increasingly on the ropes. And then add living under the ever-growing taxpayer-funded ‘”co-management” bureaucracies.

The Court’s ruling can (and should) be more broadly interpreted. For example, the court did not order gillnetting, treaty harvest rights are usufructuary, meaning they are granted and come with a responsibility to preserve the resource, and the DNR can legally restrict treaty harvest rights if there is a problem with public health, public safety, or conservation. Again, more plainly, we cannot overlook the property rights of the state and its citizens just to avoid dealing with exploitation of the Mille Lacs fishery under cover of “treaty harvest rights.”

Read more on Joe Fellegy’s take, “When the bad far outweighs any good, and when those in charge fail to minimize the harm, there’s a problem!

Is Mille Lacs out of balance?

Walleye numbers are low and legal keepers hard to find, leaving some anglers anxious. The Department of Natural Resources is planning a spring study to peg the population and try to determine the cause.

(See Related, below)

Once again, this lake is putting anglers, biologists, and policymakers to the test.

In October, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ annual gillnet survey reaped the fewest walleye in the 40 years the survey has been standardized. Biologists [were] “very concerned.”

Underneath it all lie tensions over Indian tribal netting of fish, especially since the tribes have expressed a desire to increase their share of the annual bounty this fish factory serves up.

In a few days, officials with the DNR and American Indian groups will meet behind closed doors to figure out the acceptable tonnage of walleyes that can be harvested from the lake this year. There’s good reason to believe that number could be lower than last year’s take. The meeting isn’t public, but the decision is to be announced soon after.

And that could affect the size and limits of fish that could be kept next year, which could mean the coolers once again will remain empty and frying pans un-greased.

This, in a lake that is as important to the hearts of tens of thousands of anglers as it is to the state’s tourism economy, from guides to resorts.

So a lot of people are watching.

One outcome that’s unlikely is one many guides and resort owners have been pushing for years: ending tribal netting during the spring spawn.

In the back of everyone’s minds are fears that Mille Lacs’ walleye population, which is entirely naturally reproducing, will plummet, as it did in Leech Lake a number of years ago and as it did most dramatically in Upper Red Lake, where the population collapsed in 1999.

Both lakes have rebounded. But on Leech, it followed stocking fish and killing thousands of cormorants, and on Red, the season was closed for seven years to let stocking take hold.

Continue reading

Related: Rep Sondra Erickson (15A) introduces transparency, open meeting bills

HF33 would increase transparency by requiring the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) commissioner to report annually on the costs associated with the management of fisheries in the Lake Mille Lacs and the ceded tribal territory based on the 1837 treaty. I believe it’s important that Minnesotans are aware of the exact costs year – which number in the millions – as well as the services. We also need to know what kind of funding is provided to the Ojibwe tribes as a part of the 1837 treaty.


HF42 requires meetings involving the DNR, Ojibwe bands and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission involving the 1837 treaty rights to be subject to open meeting requirements outlined under state law. It would allow members of the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group only to attend the meetings and perhaps local press.


HF42 would also require an annual report on aquatic invasive species containment efforts under state law to help ensure existing enforcement mechanisms and whether or not state laws are being followed to achieve containment of these harmful invasive species.


Emergency alert on Mille Lacs walleye crash

Last fall, the DNR found Mille Lacs walleye survey results so low (lowest since 1983,) that they pushed the co-management arrangement into “condition three.”

Yet, it was still pretty much business as usual this summer. Harder decisions would have to wait until a DNR technical group could take another look this fall.

Bad news. Survey results this fall are the lowest since 1972, and a continuation of a decline that began in 2009.

What can be done? Start with a common sense elimination of gill nets during spawning? Or schedule another study in the spring—after the next round of treaty harvest gillnetting walleye during spawning.

For nearly 20 years, members of PERM have been challenging the idea of using gill nets in Mille Lacs during walleye spawning season. PERM keeps pointing out how much this contradicts the DNR’s mission of stewardship to the governor, legislators, DNR, plus other state and agency officials.

You could do the same. Call the governor, attorney general, DNR Commissioner, and your legislators (especially while they are candidates!) Demand that they take action and get involved, and publicly address treaty harvest issues.

If you want to learn more about saving Minnesota’s premier angling destination, come to PERM’s Blainbrook event on December 6.