Star Tribune report includes evidence that the public wasn’t supposed to find out about the walleye harvest agreement.

September 11, 2017
The DNR’s fishery chief Don Pereira is seeing distrust and public discord around Mille Lacs grow. Hopefully, he will learn more because the DNR is expected to be “on the hot seat to re-explain its management strategy of the famed Mille Lacs walleye fishery,” according to a report in the Star Tribune. “Lawmakers in St. Paul and the Mille Lacs County Board have scheduled meetings to hear from Pereira and others.”

The DNR is accused of hiding “details of a key walleye agreement made this spring with eight Chippewa bands that co-manage the lake.” While the DNR has said, “mistakes were made,” the incident is driving demands to restore walleye fishing.

Mille Lacs area residents believe walleye stocks have recovered, based on “phenomenal catch rates.”

Elected leadership including Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and Mille Lacs County Commissioner Dave Oslin are calling for the DNR “to be tougher in tribal negotiations to increase the state’s harvest allocation,” according to the report. “The whole idea of negotiating a quota has to be re-examined,” Erickson said.

Legislators have met with Erickson, and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, is expected to question DNR officials next week. DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira will be questioned by the Mille Lacs County Board in early October. Oslin said the county will present data to show economic losses related to stringent walleye quotas.

Oslin and Erickson agree with Mille Lacs anglers who don’t believe the DNR’s rigid position that there’s a walleye crisis. Oslin said, “A growing core of stakeholders around Mille Lacs believes co-management of the fishery with the Chippewa is’t working and should be challenged,” according to the report. Co-management protocols stemming from a 1996 federal court order “can be changed and the state should flex its muscles.”

MLFAC co-chairman Dean Hanson attacked the DNR over the secret walleye agreement, which set quotas through 2020. The agency brought up points of the agreement, “but the document itself wasn’t distributed until Erickson uncovered it,” the report stated.

Secrecy appears to have been deliberate, since the signed agreement’s masthead included the statement: “Copies of This Memorandum Should Not be Included in Any Files, Which May be Requested by Private Parties.” DNR’s Pereira called it an “honest mistake” for not releasing the document to the public, calling the leaked document just “a draft.”

Despite being signed and dated by all parties to the agreement.

The report quotes MLFAC Co-Chair Dean Hanson saying, “Things like this really cast a shadow on the whole process. … There’s a lot of trust issues here.” He is frustrated that “the DNR doesn’t take MLFAC input seriously.”

Pereira was also quoted, saying, “It’s a constant frustration to manage the Mille Lacs fishery while having “to exert so much energy managing human dimensions.”

Getting past the secrecy and respecting the volunteer efforts of the Mille Lacs Fishery Advisory Committee would have saved a lot of that energy.

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