After twenty plus years – it’s time for a new plan
Javier Serna’s report in Outdoor News gives us some real insight on the DNR’s “co-management” of the Mille Lacs walleye fishery. (DNR weighing 2022 Mille Lacs open-water regulations, Outdoor News, February 25,) It is a great snapshot of the DNR’s failed efforts currently and over time—using their data, charts, and comments. (see below)
It clearly shows why PERM is calling for the DNR to discontinue its co-management of the Mille Lacs walleye fishery. It is time for the DNR to admit their co-management it is not working.
Think about it, over 20 years of co-managing one of the best walleye reproducing lakes in the nation and as a licensed angler you are allowed to keep one walleye on occasion. Failure is the only word to describe it. I believe that gillnetting during the spawn isn’t working as the DNR’s recent numbers show low walleye population. However, the catch rates of anglers beg to differ.
Is it time to get the legislature involved? Is it time to go back to the court for allocation? It is obvious the current plan is not working. Even Red Lake has been brought back to life after being almost totally netted out. Can you imagine any other industry bragging about these results after 20 plus years of effort? It’s politicized mismanagement at its worst.
This is why PERM promotes equal hunting and fishing rights for ALL citizens of Minnesota.
The details are tediously similar to those of recent years. It’s the usual backdrop for yet another decrease in the state’s recreational anglers’ share of Mille Lacs walleye. The DNR is showing new highs in the artistry of mis-management. Along with the folderol used to explain it.
Tom Heinrich, DNR’s fisheries supervisor in Garrison, explained this year’s reduced quota. It’s due to the low numbers of the 2018, 2019, and 2020 year-classes of walleyes showing up in last fall’s gill-netting survey. Heinrich admits that some of those year-classes appeared to look more promising in previous gill-net surveys. And, they could show up in higher numbers in coming years.
He doesn’t explain why one poor showing trumps the previous promising survey results. Then he says the quiet part out loud. “It seems like maybe this year was just a poor year of netting. That happens every now and then.” Not to worry. “We’ll know for sure by next fall whether this was a poor year of netting or not.” (Once this year’s open-water walleye season is over.)
Heinrich does explain why tribal-state negotiations always trend in the direction they do. It’s not just a poor showing in gill net surveys. He says that tribal managers consistently push for more conservative harvest than their state counterparts. “They are more conservative by nature,” according to Heinrich. “They have a lower risk tolerance than we do.” (So lowest common denominator wins?)
Actually, the DNR is no slouch when it comes to lower risk tolerance for co-managing Mille Lacs. (Causing no end of grief for Mille Lacs fishing-related businesses.) Serna writes the DNR officials “have for the past decade said they’d over-estimated” what could be safely harvested “without having a detrimental effect.” Actually, looking at the meager harvests for the past decade (chart), it seems that it’s only the DNR’s ability to “co-manage” that is over-estimated.
If all the walleye harvests in the years before 1998 were similarly goosed by the entirely novel use of “hooking mortality,” the contrast with the results of DNR co-management would be even more obvious. Nowhere else in the country is “hooking mortality” used in conservation fishery management.
Catch-and-release is widely embraced by conservationists, tournament pros, and anglers. Nowhere is there concern about the small percentage of fish that don’t survive C & R. Unfortunately, the broad conservation-minded support in Minnesota for C & R has been hijacked by the DNR. Under “co-management,” anglers are penalized for practicing conservation. The more anglers are forced to release, by the DNR’s hooking mortality driven regs, the more Mille Lacs anglers are punished! (Yet, not a pound of mortality has been assessed on tons of unwanted northern pike and by-catch “released” every year by tribal gillnetters.)
Another repudiation of basic fishery management is allowing the harvest of walleye during the spawn. More incomprehensible is allowing the use of gillnets during the spawn. That means most of the Bands’ harvest consists of spawning fish. “Co-management” quotas are even more meaningless when applied to vastly different methods of harvest.
Over and over, it’s apparent that “co-management” is not working. The DNR is not making any progress to increase the number of walleye that can be taken out of the lake. It’s time to come up with a new plan.
Simplest, in principle, would be equal hunting and fishing rights for all. Everyone hunts and fishes under the same rules. Negotiating past business as usual is possible. But it likely means having the courts come up with an allocation. What would it take to get started on a new plan?
Serna reports how Mark Utne, long-time member of the now-diversified Mille Lacs Fishery Advisory Committee wonders the same thing. “I wonder if the public knows what the lake used to be like and would ever get fired up about the current screwed-up management system.”
As a MLFAC member, he understands the DNR’s view. But he is frustrated by the results of DNR’s “co-management” of Mille Lacs walleye.
“It’s political,” Utne said, and which PERM has often pointed out. He adds “Unless leadership wants to change things, the DNR’s hands are tied. It is kind of nuts the way it is. I would like to see the DNR stand up for state anglers a bit more, but that has to come from leadership….”
Read more below
DNR weighing 2022 Mille Lacs open-water regulations
By Javier Serna, Assistant Editor, Outdoor News, February 25, 2022
Brainerd, Minn. — The walleye bite has slowed on Lake Mille Lacs in recent days, driving down estimated harvest. The light bite may be the consequence of an abundance of young yellow perch, officials say.
Those lower harvest numbers, which will continue to accumulate until the game fish season ends this Sunday, Feb. 27, may give DNR officials the leeway to allow walleye harvest during the upcoming open-water season.
Anglers have noticed those young-of-year perch this winter — fish from 4 to 7 inches that have fed walleyes well, plumped up their bellies, and made them less likely to bite anglers’ offerings. Perch also showed up in the fall gill-netting survey at 12 fish per net, and the hope is that the walleye population will not eat them all, thus allowing some perch to grow to jumbo sizes that anglers can enjoy.
That information was shared when the Minnesota DNR convened a hybrid meeting of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee in Brainerd, with a handful of committee members attending in person and the rest virtually, Feb. 15.
Upcoming regulations, based on a quota set via negotiations between the DNR and the Indian bands in the 1837 Ceded Territory, have not yet been set by state fisheries officials.
“We want to wait until we have the final winter harvest numbers,” said Tom Heinrich, the department’s Garrison-area fisheries supervisor.
Heinrich said he suspects the final winter walleye harvest by the state’s recreational anglers will top off around 10,000 pounds. That tally was under 5,000 pounds through the month of January — a fairly average harvest compared with some years when a lack of walleye forage has resulted in increased harvest, which then cut into summer quotas.
Those 5,000 pounds harvested starting Dec. 1, 2021, count against this year’s annual quota, which was set for about 135,000 pounds of walleyes. That’s to be divided between state and tribal anglers and is down from last season’s 150,000-pound quota, which gave state anglers a share of 87,800 pounds.
The state’s recreational anglers’ share (which includes estimated hooking mortality) for 2022 is about 80,300 pounds.
At last week’s meeting, the DNR rolled out two possible scenarios for the upcoming season.
One would be catch-and-release fishing between May 14 and June 30 and July 16 through Oct. 31, with a planned closure of the walleye fishery from July 1-15, when water temperatures in the lake typically peak and increase hooking mortality of released fish.
The other option was termed “limited harvest” with a 21- to 23-inch harvest slot May 14-31 and Sept. 1 through Oct. 31. That season also includes a closure of the walleye fishery from July 1-15 and catch-and-release walleye angling June 1-30 and July 16 through Sept. 15.
Both options conservatively strive to avoid reaching the state’s portion of the quota, which would force an unplanned closure – something fishing-related businesses on the lake have continually considered a worst-case scenario.
This year’s reduced quota is a result of the past three year-classes of walleyes (2018, 2019, and 2020) showing up in low numbers in near-shore nets during last fall’s gill-netting survey.
“(Those year-classes) are at the very bottom side of average right now,” Heinrich said. “They are not super weak.”
Some of those year-classes appeared to look more promising in previous gill-net surveys, so Heinrich said it’s possible that they could show up in higher numbers in coming years.
“It seems like maybe this year was just a poor year of netting. That happens every now and then,” Heinrich said. “We’ll know for sure by next fall whether this was a poor year of netting or not.”
But the latest data made fisheries managers, both tribal and state, more willing to consider a lower quota, although tribal managers consistently push for more conservative harvest than their state counterparts during negotiations.
“They are more conservative by nature,” Heinrich said. “They have a lower risk tolerance than we do.”
As things stand, the banner 2013 year-class remains the strongest in the lake, with the 2017 year-class next in line.
State fisheries officials are years into a change in how state fishing regulations are set for Mille Lacs.
That’s caused angst among fishing-related businesses, including bait shops, resorts, and launch operations. Officials have for the past decade said they’d overestimated the amount of walleyes they thought anglers could remove from the lake each season without having a detrimental effect. In 2002, anglers harvested nearly 1.2 million pounds of walleyes, and as recently as 2012, the shared harvest was nearly 400,000 pounds.
“I wonder if the public knows what the lake used to be like and would ever get fired up about the current screwed-up management system,” said Mark Utne, a lakeshore homeowner and long-time member of MLFAC.
Utne said his involvement with the committee has helped him to better understand the DNR’s perspective, even if he remains frustrated by the outcome of a co-management system that is unique to the fishery.
“It’s political,” Utne said.
“Unless leadership wants to change things, the DNR’s hands are tied. It is kind of nuts the way it is. I would like to see the DNR stand up for state anglers a bit more, but that has to come from leadership….”
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