Joe Fellegy highlights obvious questions in his latest article, Mille Lacs news cycle breaks records, raises questions, Outdoor News, November 15, 2019. Many of these are questions that get buried in the well-organized agendas at MLFAC meetings that are forever wrestling with the “co-management” of the Mille Lacs fishery. These are the same questions I’ve heard (or recognized from between the lines) time and again at the MLFAC meetings I have attended.

High on the list is the “endless uncertainty” borne by the Mille Lacs angling community. That’s the biggest takeaway after hearing the DNR’s reports that make up a large part of every meeting, which blends the scientific with guesstimates, political tiptoeing, and the occasional dead silence.

MLFAC meetings are well run and respectful with a sliver of good news thrown in now and then. But the MLFAC meetings never involve more than half the equation when it comes to dealing with Mille Lacs “co-management.” The other half, tribal DNRs and GLIFWC, are entirely insulated from negotiation by the DNR and by the “unchangeable” protocols for harvest management and resource assessment. (Protocols are always presented as unchangeable–until when they aren’t.)

Read Joe’s article below. He has good questions to keep in mind for the next time you talk to your legislator, or candidates next year.

And remember to get your dinner tickets for PERM’s annual fundraising dinner at Blainbrook. It’s a great time for a good cause!

PERM Annual Fundraising Dinner
Thursday, Dec 5 at Blainbrook

Mille Lacs news cycle breaks records, raises questions
By Joe Fellegy Outdoor News, November 15, 2019

Outdoor-issues watchers and Minnesota citizens should know that the DNR’s Nov. 4 news about upcoming winter walleye regs on Lake Mille Lacs continues the biggest fiasco in Minnesota fishing and fisheries management.

To defend the state-tribal co-management system that rules Mille Lacs, the DNR and politicians, academics, and journalists who support the monster often sidestep fisheries science and facts.

That might sound wonkish and too academic, but most readers can relate to the unacceptable negatives that dominate the never-ending Mille Lacs crapstorm. And know that when public policy, such as the state-tribal co-management quota system and related management, carries way more negatives than positives, it’s a flawed policy.

Consider just a few of the negatives, in no special order:

• The onslaught of regulation changes, including release-‘em-all and even no targeting of walleyes, which leads folks into mistakenly believing the Mille Lacs walleye population is in biological collapse, which is false.

Nothing in the huge walleye-friendly Mille Lacs biosphere justifies the super-tight angling restrictions.

• Endless uncertainty victimizes the Mille Lacs angling community. Think quota watch, low fish allocations, hooking-mortality guestimates, and the management extremes they trigger, as well as unnecessarily tight angling regs that can change on short notice and the spectre of sudden closures – shutdowns with no-targeting walleyes. All for no good reason!

Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee co-chair Dean Hanson said, “We don’t need the threat of closure always hanging over our heads.”

• DNR personnel are caught in the middle. Media coverage and citizen discussions naturally focus on DNR, DNR, DNR. Yes, the DNR manages the state’s side of state-tribal co-management. But somehow the other powerful co-managers – eight tribal DNRs (Mille Lacs, Fond du Lac, and six from Wisconsin) and their umbrella agency, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission – escape transparency and accountability pertaining to funding, motives, and meetings and interactions with state DNR personnel.

• Because DNR personnel advance and defend the management decisions spurred by the co-management quota system, I sense high levels of distrust of the DNR.

Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, hits the trust theme here: “Co-management is not based on ethical principles of right and wrong. For the DNR to agree to unreasonable quotas, and to use hooking mortality to reach the quota, tells me they do not honor the value of what is good and right for the resource, anglers, and related businesses. They avoid the tough ethical questions that include accountability and transparency to the taxpayers of Minnesota, especially to anglers, so I do not trust the DNR’s decision-making. Ethical decisions are supposed to sustain trust.”

• The indefensible is defended by the DNR. The agency’s Nov. 4 press release, entitled, “Mille Lacs Lake winter anglers allowed one walleye starting Dec. 1,” states that walleye harvest by anglers this coming winter “will be counted toward the state’s share of walleye from Mille Lacs under the 1837 treaty.”

Know that the Indian treaty era ended in 1871. And 1837 was 21 years before Minnesota statehood. No 1837 land-cession treaty ordered today’s political co-management quotas, state-tribal fish allocations, and extremist angling regulations at Mille Lacs.

• In the DNR’s Nov. 4 press release, DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen stated, “We’re encouraged to see evidence that our conservative approach to Mille Lacs is paying off, allowing continued walleye angling opportunities.”

So anglers should rejoice because they can at least wet a line on Mille Lacs? And credit the DNR’s conservative and cautious approach that helped Mille Lacs walleyes recover and rebound? The walleyes never plummeted, disappeared, or needed a crazy management approach.

• The DNR’s Nov. 4 press release and a teleconference with MLFAC members had DNR Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons suggesting that a good winter walleye bite might result in 15,000 pounds of walleye harvest, or more, which may “directly affect (2020) open-water angling opportunities.”

What does he mean? A possible early-season shutdown?

What quota and state-tribal allocations will the co-managers agree to in the coming months? Know this: 15,000, 20,000, or even 25,000 walleye pounds are statistical nothings in the big Mille Lacs context.

• Harvest usually means fish that are caught and kept. Yet under the quota system that rules Mille Lacs, anglers can harvest too many pounds of walleyes even when no keeping is allowed. Thank hooking mortality guesstimates. This year, it was no keeping from May 31 to Sept. 6. But release-‘em-all wasn’t enough. From Sept. 6 until Dec. 1, it’s no-targeting Mille Lacs walleyes.

Doug Meyenburg, president of Proper Economic Resource Management, asked DNR officials a relevant question at the Oct. 14 MLFAC meeting. What is the state’s position in the ongoing tribal legal quest for fishing-hunting-gathering rights and co-management authority across the huge 1855 Ceded Territory? No answer.

Remember that no treaty and no court-ordered Minnesota government personnel to stand by when state agencies and state citizens are hurt by this ongoing mess.

Outside the co-management quota system, DNR Fisheries managers would never impose walleye regs such as one-walleye limits, super-narrow protected slots, no-keeping, and even no-targeting walleyes.

Meanwhile, gear up for ice fishing! Mille Lacs walleye anglers, business folks, and other Minnesotans are expected to celebrate the DNR’s announcement that anglers can at least start the winter season with one keeper – if it’s in that 21- to 23-inch slot, or over 28 inches.

Every season’s parade of Mille Lacs management updates naturally spawns media headlines and a giant PR mess. But don’t blame media. Blame the co-management beast for an annual spectacle that surely equals millions in negative advertising.

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