We hope not, but time will tell
We are wondering how much of the DNR’s newest plan for dealing with the Mille Lacs fishery has potential for restoring a premiere angling destination and local economy. And how much is just a dog and pony show. There’s some evidence both ways.
The DNR’s response to dealing with the walleye fishery shutdown, and outcry that followed, is detailed in its plan, Mille Lacs Lake Management: Minnesota DNR. In it, the DNR promises to begin “implementing concrete steps aimed at improving the Mille Lacs Lake walleye population, while building a closer working relationship with the Mille Lacs community.” Here are items we are looking at.
First up, a refurbished Fishery Input Group
The new advisory committee, formed “to oversee the lake,” replaces the old Fisheries Input Group. Early reports are that nothing has changed beyond a few new members. “We’ll put a lot of stock in what they recommend, but it’s still an advisory group” according to DNR’s Commissioner Landwehr.
Landwehr said “he hopes the new group will improve the DNR’s relations with the Mille Lacs community.” We hope so too. In the past it looked a lot like providing cover for “co-management” of Mille Lacs.
It’s still all about members looking over options coming from the DNR. They cannot discuss, or even bring up, alternatives not brought in by the DNR. Then they get to put their fingerprints on one of them before the DNR announces it to the public.
This time though, it wasn’t quite business as usual. At its recent meeting, the Committee did not endorse a particular option. Instead, they agreed that this winter’s ice fishing limits be conservative. They also recommend catch and release-only rather than shutdown, if the quota is being reached. That generated kudos from some of the lake’s supporters.
New staff and new facility
The DNR’s plan includes building a research facility, hatchery, and outreach center right on the shores of Lake Mille Lacs. It will support a lot of research, including fish surveys, lake monitoring, harvest monitoring, and hatchery production.
The new fisheries facility is estimated to cost about $3.5 million, and will be submitted as part of next year’s bonding bill. How much will this proposal actually cost? Once a bureaucracy expands, adding program, facilities, and staff, it never goes away. Maybe taxpayers going into debt for this will now better relate to the plight of Mille Lacs resorters, who are also going into debt.
Better communications, data sharing, and responsiveness to local needs sure sounds like the “customer service,” which the Governor says the DNR needs. But a larger concern than the cost is the emphasis on research and public relations, with no attention paid to problems with “co-management.”
The DNR has long opposed stocking walleye in Mille Lacs. Now they are responding to public pressure by saying it would start planning for something it doesn’t think will be necessary.
They propose a pilot stocking effort to design techniques, just in case the state ever needs to supplement the lake’s natural spawning with outside help. They will go ahead if walleye population “keeps dropping.”
This is only planning and a pilot project. How long will it take for any real impact on Mille Lacs? The DNR has already run out the clock as far as the local Mille Lacs economy goes.
The DNR has long heard complaints about the lack of transparency in the Mille Lacs “co-management’s” setting of limits and quotas. In its Mille Lacs Lake Management plan, the DNR says it will also focus on “increasing the transparency of quota setting on Mille Lacs.” Almost immediately came word from DNR Fisheries head Don Pereira that “tribal band members didn’t like the idea and were of the opinion outside observers would have a chilling effect on the discussion.” So that will be the end of it?
First order of business
We agree with the St Cloud Times Editorial Board’s position that “the state should strike a deal with Indian bands that stops them from netting walleye permanently on the lake.” They added, “The state should push hard–and even spend money–to get the bands to stop netting permanently.”
Steve Johnson Report
We agree with a Facebook post by Steve Johnson, Johnsons Portside, that gillnetting walleye on Mille Lacs during the spawn is an issue for many anglers. Continuing to allow this “only makes that crowd larger.” More specifically, Johnson states, “The DNR must do more to prove that [the gillnetting] has no negative effect on the lake. The only PROOF being presented by [the DNR] is that recruitment is good and stable, I think you need to take this further, as it is the only definitive answer ever given in the whole situation.”
Doug Douglas Meyenburg,
President, Proper Economic Resource Management