DNR seeks input on its fishing management plan

August 1 is the last day for DNR Mille Lacs survey

The Mille Lacs Messenger recently reported on one of the DNR’s’ three “Community Conversations about Mille Lacs.” (Will an increase in walleye harvest be in sight?) by T.A. LeBrun, July 24, 2019). This one was held at Kathio State Park on Thursday, July 16.

The meetings were held by the DNR to gain public input in creating their fisheries management plan on Mille Lacs Lake. It started with DNR Mille Lacs Fisheries Supervisor Tom Heinrich covering what the DNR had to say. He explained the biological, legal and social, for why the DNR can’t do whatever they want on the lake.

Biological reasons would be familiar to anyone following the Mille Lacs “co-management” issue over the years.

Legal reasons, as LeBrun reported, started with a DNR reference to the Supreme Court’s ruling that would “affect how many pounds of walleye can be taken from the lake each year between the state and the Band anglers.”

PERM has always pointed out that the Supreme Court ruling’s affect on how many pounds of walleye can be taken is limited to what is negotiated between the DNR and the Mille Lacs Band. That “negotiation” approach was approved in lieu of the typical “phase two” in harvest rights cases, in which the court actually decides what a specific state/tribal allocation would be.

LeBrun quoted DNR’s Heinrich saying “The way we currently manage the harvest is through the consensus agreement which is an agreement produced so we won’t have to go back to court.” Then he added, “According to the [consensus] agreement, the state must take restrictive actions prior to the tribes (sic).”

Prior to the tribe’s walleye quota being set?

PERM reviewed the secretly-negotiated “Consensus Agreement.” That agreement was created in response to the Mille Lacs tribe’s initiating the dispute resolution process established by the court. The Agreement explained that the Mille Lacs tribe was “seeking a remedy [reparations] for the State’s [6,000 pounds of walleye quota] overage” which occurred in 2016.

The State’s “restrictive actions” apparently are needed to achieve the Agreement’s “implementation of measures to prevent future overages.” The only restriction actually needed was to saw it off after the walleye quota was reached. The 2016 overage came after Governor Dayton generously extended the walleye season for Mille Lacs anglers and resorters. At a cost of a 6,000-pound overage.

Overages in the past didn’t trigger the dispute resolution process. Maybe that’s because past overages were due to biological miscalculations. In 2016 it was a political miscalculation. Payback via a Consensus Agreement includes tighter restrictions on overages and fishery closure, as well as the introduction of a 50% share of the Walleye quota, given certain thresholds. The DNR, in turn, got more support for restrictions and less pressure in negotiations.

The DNR’s current Community Meetings effort, along with an annual kreel survey, is focused on figuring out tradeoffs among angler interests for allocating what’s left for non-band anglers.

Community input is still being gathered online through August 1. The survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/MilleLacs.