MLFAC talks upcoming regulations
By Eric Jacobson, Mille Lacs Messenger, March 9, 2022

The Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory. Committee (MLFAC) Met on Fob. 15 at the Brainerd DNR offices to discuss a number of topics. First on the ‘were introductions of all committee members. including 10 new members along with the DNR, staff that was present in person and virtual.

Mille Lacs Area Supervisor Tom Heinrich gave a presentation on the fall
netting survey conducted last fall. The conclusion of the survey was that the results were down from the previous year, but the number of mature walleyes captured were up. So this bodes well for the future.

Upcoming 2022 regulation discussion
As talk turned to the upcoming regulation options Steve Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Portside reminded the DNR that over the past 24 years of co-management, anglers on average have come in 30% below the quotas. He added, “We’ve never taken a non-conservative approach, people need
to understand that, and I think it’s too conservative.

One member pointed out that the state’s preference for the 2021 open water season was to be catch and release only. similar, similar to the 2020 open water season. The DNR stated that was supposed to be just a starting point in the discussion.

Ultimately there was some harvest last season, and according to the DNR, that’s why, when some harvest was allowed for the last half of May it was a conservative approach, to see what that would total with the intention then (if the allocation allowed) to reopen harvest he fall, and that happened on Sept. 16 – Nov. 30.

Slot change?
The overall consensus was that the DNR was leaning toward keeping the regulation options the same as last year. Tom Neustrom asked when the slot would change? Heinrich said the main goal is to keep the fishery open
but that “there’s lots of smaller fish in the lake right now and that would add up quickly if the slot was changed to a smaller size.”

New member Jason Bahr from Tutts Bait in Garrison said he would like to see a smaller slot. In contrast, Bill Eno of Twin Pines Resort would like to see the slot moved to 22 – 24 inches. Regional Fisheries Manager Brian Nerbonne reminded everyone that risk tolerance plays a part in the decisions.

Co-Chair Dean Hansen from Agate Bay Resort expressed concern that letting the large 2013 class of walleyes continue to grow will them to “eat up the
lake.” Fisheries Section Chief Brad Parsons reiterated that “fish have kind of stopped growing due to the low forage.” Right now there is a lack of big fish in the lake. Bill Eno said big fish are rare right now. And
that there “aren’t many 28 inch plus fish coming across the road anymore.”

Steve Johnson suggested shifting some of the fall harvest to June and went on to say that people are used to the changing regulations. “Could we make a mid-season change with a press release?” The DNR said that the under quota should normally reflect in the next year’s netting results.

The DNR’s goals for the upcoming season are:
* No unplanned closure
* Maximize angling opportunities
*Allow harvest
*Try to be more consistent with the regulations
*Stay under quota

Post mortality
When talk turned to post mortality (walleyes that die after being caught and released) the DNR reiterated that water temperatures play a key role in that number, and that is one of the lawns for the July closures, as that is generally around the peak water temperatures of the summer.

Jason Bahr said, “July has got to close.” Parsons reminded folks that in the first two weeks °fluty 2019 there was 20,700 pounds of post mortality walleyes alone. But “the bite was good.”

Winter harvest down
Forage projections also factor into the regulation equation as does previous winter success as the winter fishing is a good indicator as to how the summer fishing will be. As of Jan. 20, the DNR estimated that anglers harvested 4,600 pounds of ‘walleye so far this winter with a little over a month to go in the season at that time. Heinrich said
catch rates this winter are down slightly.

Lake productivity going down
As far as the spawn and recruitment, Heinrich said the fry is not the problem. “Lack of productivity and aquatic invasive species is the biggest factor in the decline, and the lake cannot support the walleye population it used to.” He also said the restrictive regulations have slowed the decline. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission has voiced concern about the recent poor year classes as well, specifically the 2018-20 classes. They fear a crash may be on the horizon.

Heinrich said, “It would be irresponsible to try to max Out the quota.”

Public comments
Although the meeting was closed to the public due to the pandemic, it was streamed for the public to join in and view. There was time at the end of the meeting for virtual public comments.

Philip Englemeyer reminded the DNR that anglers were under the quota by 49% in 2018, over by 6% in 2019 and again under by 24% in 2020 and 41% in 2021. He thought the shut down in July was completely unnecessary in 2021 and that anglers would have still been under the quota. Ile also thought the state should be able to carry over the previous underages.

Mille Lacs Lake guide Matt Treno said the July shutdown is a problem. “It hurts families trying to come up here to fish for walleyes.” In his opinion, Mille Lacs is primarily catch and release anyway and thought the five regulation changes in 2021 was a joke. “It scares away anglers.”

He suggested making it easier for the family guy to enjoy Mille Lacs.

As the meeting wrapped up, Jason Bahr suggested installing cameras at the public accesses as one report of a crime on Facebook is all it takes to keep some people from coming to the lake.

Brad Parsons closed the meeting.

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