Ron Schara recognized the anger and distrust of the sport-fishing public over the DNR-tribal co-management of walleyes in Lake Mille Lacs. He writes that if DNR and tribal fish managers hope to change that, more transparency in the co-management process is needed.
Media often bring up the word transparency when they have questions about the way government operates. Stringent open meeting laws apply to almost every gathering where decisions by government officials are made. It’s part of Minnesota’s reputation for “clean” and “open” government.
Yet, when Minnesota is dealing with walleyes on Mille Lacs, complete transparency is lacking. Ever since the courts ordered co-management of Mille Lacs’ fish, DNR and tribal fish managers regularly hold closed meetings regarding the people’s walleyes. Major newspapers, who so love transparency, are editorially silent about the secrecy.
The fish management meetings likely are on the up and up. But without transparency, the public is in the dark about how decisions are made. Today we know those Mille Lacs fish management plans were, at best, faulty, ill-advised, or biologically inept.
Without transparency, who knows how many tribal nets go into the lake, or how the walleyes are counted? Of if Wisconsin band netters follow the same rules.
Transparency is the best way to deal with accusations that tribal netting is bad. But DNR and tribal leaders insist on secret negotiations in meetings closed to the public. Recently the DNR said some members of the new advisory committee could sit in on these negotiations. A few weeks later, the DNR said tribal officials objected, after which the DNR rolled over and concurred. The secrecy continues; meetings remain closed. And once again, the media say nothing.
Meanwhile, the fishing public’s distrust goes on. Sadly, it doesn’t need to be this way.