In the past, the public was always invited to observe MLFAC and DNR rep discussions. Plus, 15 minutes were reserved for public comments and questions. Not this time.
A DNR Press Release for the January 28 MLFAC meeting never showed up. We found out about it the day before and quickly sent out an Email Alert. Three hours later, the meeting was canceled.
This gave the DNR time to conference call MLFAC members about the harvest quota for 2020 before it went public. Then they notified MLFAC by email about the next meeting date. Wednesday, February 19th from 5:00 pm-8:00 pm at Appeldoorn’s on Mille Lacs–45401 Mille Lacs Parkway, Isle, MN 56342)
Again, no Press Release. The public really needs to know what’s happening with “co-management.” Go to PERM’s Facebook page to get the low down from Steve Johnson, MLFAC committee member and owner of Johnsons Portside. Hear from someone whose views are based on years of making a living from the Mille Lacs fishery.
Is Mille Lacs out of balance?
Steve Johnson’s February 4th video (posted on PERM’s Facebook,) has a detailed discussion about how the DNR is forcing the Mille Lacs walleye population increasingly out of balance. He explains how DNR is trying to out-maneuver Mille Lacs’ natural cycling of the walleye population.
Currently, the number of walleye in certain year-classes is high enough for recent good catch rates. But he unnatural build-up of large walleye will end up crashing an upcoming year-class, according to Steve. DNR co-management is only making things worse as “they are now doubling down on bad meddling.”
Politics not science dictates “co-management.”
Steve’s recent discussions did not go into the impact of tribal gillnetting of walleye during the spawn. That kind of gillnetting contradicts every principle of conservation, let alone preservation.
On the other side of the equation, PERM’s believes that walleye harvests are unfairly limited by tangled restrictions and outright closures for non-band anglers to help finesse harvest quota negotiations. And nothing is more tangled than the DNR’s “hooking mortality” firewall against any chance of “overharvest.” It’s based on a pyramid of estimates, from creel survey (anecdotal) data, angling pressure, and un-replicated hooking mortality study data. Each estimate has it’s own (un-estimated) margin of error. Combine that with more assumptions such as catch and release skill and it is impossible to imagine the result being–as Steve Johnson puts it–“a single hard” safe harvest number.
If there was any validity for using “hooking mortality,” the DNR could have pointed to its use anywhere else when they were asked this question at a MLFAC meeting. But “hooking mortality” is useful for making the DNR’s management of non-tribal angler access and harvest of walleye–as well as co-management “negotiations”–a lot easier.
The DNR concocted the “hooking mortality” concept as a way to reduce non-tribal angling pressure on the total safe allowable harvest. This in turn actually guarantees the tribe a larger harvest ratio than what the quota numbers would indicate.
The DNR is free to drop the use of “hooking mortality” in negotiating with the tribe. That would create more equality under the law and reduce outright discrimination against non-tribal anglers. The DNR invented it. They can chuck it.
The tribe would understand. They have no “netting mortality” counterpart for their conservation efforts. They keep it simple. Tribal DNR regs allow band members 10 walleye per day if their gillnetting doesn’t exceed the “co-management’s” tribal quota as reported by the tribe.
What goes on in Tribal/DNR negotiations?
Recently, Rep. Sondra Erickson expressed her disappointment with the DNR’s side of co-management negotiations. She is frustrated by “the fact that no members of MLFAC . . . were included in the decisions made by our sovereign, Minnesota DNR.” She wants to know “whether [tribal/DNR] discussions occurred regarding state anglers having to count hooking mortality against the state allotment.”
Rep. Erickson also wants to know whether the DNR ever challenges the Band’s decision to net walleye during the spawn. As Steve Johnson does, she recognizes that the lake has natural cycling of walleye populations. And she finds “the netting offensive to Mother Nature’s control of the lake.”
“Worst of all,” she writes, “these management decisions are made behind closed doors–without input from the area resorts, guides, legislators, and residents. They result in significant economic hardship for towns that surround the lake.”
Any reason for continuing the secret “Consensus Agreement”?
Speaking of “behind closed doors,” there was actually very little negotiation needed this year. Most of it was completed with the secretly negotiated, secretly adopted, accidentally discovered three-year “Consensus Agreement” between the DNR and the Mille Lacs tribe. This year will be the last year covered by this agreement
The agreement was part of the restitution demanded by the Mille Lacs tribe for the 6,800 pounds of walleye harvested over the non-tribal anglers’ quota in 2016. The tribe was upset by Gov. Dayton’s arrogance in allowing an overage to stave off an early-season closure on behalf of Mille Lacs resorts and businesses. See further info at perm.org and Facebook.
Restitution for the overage also included a specific formula to enhance allocation in favor of the tribes. It is based on the following: in 2017, the harvestable surplus (safe allowable harvest) was 64,000 pounds. Under the Consensus Agreement, the quota was allocated 70% to the State and 30% to the bands. For 2018, 2019, through Spring opener in 2020, the 70/30 ratio applied to 64,000 pounds or less, and 50/50 for any amount over. Provided the offending overage is repaid and no overage exists at the end of the agreement in 2020.
The recently announced walleye safe harvest level of 150,000 pounds, (the same as last year) was allocated at 87,800 pounds for State-licensed anglers’ 2019-2020 ice and 2020 open-water season. Tribal fishing is subject to a 62,200-pound limit during the same period. Those numbers come right out of the Consensus Agreement formula above.
Given all Mille Lacs’ biological twists and turns, it is interesting that the quota should be identical as last year. Is that a politics-not-science move to help lock in the Consensus Agreement?
Is there any reason to renew the Consensus Agreement and its formulas, now that the State has been sufficiently chastised for one season’s overage of walleye harvest? Will it be renewed? With or without MLFAC input? Will it run for years this time, such as the ten-year agreement the DNR recently made with the Red Lake Band?
MLFAC members were told they would have a chance to discuss the Consensus Agreement.
Again, Politics not science dictates!
See Dean Hanson’s post (Agate Bay Resort, February 4) on PERM’s Facebook.
Dean Hanson writes that DNR’s recent walleye quota announcement was “further evidence . . . that fish biology has nothing to do with the management of the Mille Lacs fishery.” He says he would bet “everything I own that no one from the DNR went to the Technical meetings with the Bands with the idea that 150,000 pounds was the best number for the allowable surplus.”
Dean believes the State’s Democrat administration (much favored by the Bands) over-rules the biologists to give the Bands what they want. He adds that Minnesotans “get the government that you deserve by how you vote.”
As another resort owner who makes a living from Mille Lacs, Dean agrees with Steve Johnson’s take about Mille Lacs being out of balance. “We need to harvest more walleyes to avoid a crash in the forage for the walleyes to eat.”
Dean asks about the Band’s real agenda. He speculates about Bands (who can afford it) buying land in a declining Mille Lacs economy and taking over all of the tourism in the area. Regardless, he believes “[State] government should be acting for all of the citizens, not the deep pockets.”
An immediate concern is the hit coming to the non-tribal quota from the “higher harvest this winter because of the bad ice on many other walleye lakes in Minnesota.” He believes catch and release this summer is likely to the only option, which will be greatly undermined by “hooking mortality”–“even though no one sees anywhere close to their numbers either floating or drifted to shore.”
Finally, Dean asks: How long will the state sportsmen continue to allow the state natural resources to be managed by politicians and money? We deserve better but we won’t get it as long as we quietly go along with the broken system.
Please read Dean Hanson’s February 4 post on PERM’s Facebook, Like it, and Share it.
If you have comments coming from these observations, contact DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments. Be polite!
We would also like to see as many concerned members of the public as possible at the next MLFAC meeting. (Wednesday, February 19th from 5:00 pm-8:00 pm at Appeldoorn’s on Mille Lacs–45401 Mille Lacs Parkway, Isle, MN 56342)
Show up to show your support for MLFAC members.