By Joe Fellegy – Outdoor News – February 7, 2014

This year the annual news cycle is already more negatively powerful than ever. It stems from treaty fisheries co-management and the state’s failure to protect state and citizen interests. Impatience is growing over state leaders who are more loyal to a flawed system than to their own citizens and Mille Lacs.

The future of a walleye angling destination economy is in doubt.

The bad news about Mille Lacs started early. It began with the usual new quotas, bag limits, size restriction, gill-net harvest reports, etc. It quickly expanded with the DNR hype on its “new plan” for Mille Lacs. Loss of the walleye-angling-destination work-arounds, such as promotion of alternative fish species, or non-walleye Mille Lacs tourism themes added to the equivalent of millions in negative advertising.

Errors compound the bad news barrage.

Journalists and politicos commonly misinterpret Court affirmations of basic treaty-rights harvests and OK on “tribal co-management.” Court affirmations of treaty rights are now applied to using gill-nets and all aspects of the “treaty management” system. These affirmations are used to immunize “managers from the scrutiny and hard questions … that policymakers should face.”

It’s also not true, contrary to the DNR’s past claims, that state government hands are tied. If state leaders remain indifferent to the Mille Lacs fiasco’s impact on Mille Lacs-related businesses, then maybe these businesses “should be exempted from state taxes.”

Politicians and media also have wrongly freed taxpayer-funded tribal governments and “co-management” bureaucracies from hard questions and accountability. They give a pass on using the “racism” label against anyone who questions their action.

Public policy on Mille Lacs, and its devastating impact on the Mille Lacs economy are bringing “ near-universal agreement that the walleye gill-netting and related “treaty management” must go.”

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How to Fix Mille Lacs

By Dick Sternberg

Background. It’s been more than a decade since I worked on behalf of the Mille Lacs landowners group to expose threats to the walleye fishery that had begun to develop as a result of the new court-ordered “treaty-management” program. With fish-management decisions being made on the basis of treaty dictates rather than biological facts, most of the serious fisheries problems we are experiencing today were easy to predict. Now, after 15 years of treaty management, the walleye population is at an historic low and the DNR seems to be at a loss as to how to solve the problem.

In attempting to summarize the causes of the problem, the DNR says: “The problem is complex. Many things are or have been going on at once.

One thing the DNR did not address in their laundry list is the difficulty for non-band members to catch “keeper” walleyes. Because of the extremely narrow harvest slot in 2013 (only 18- to 20-inch walleyes could be kept), anglers had to return 89 percent of the walleyes they caught. They were also assessed a “hooking-mortality” penalty on the walleyes they released, so when the bite was hot and large numbers of fish were being thrown back, hooking mortality far exceeded the catch of keepers. In July 2013, for example, anglers harvested 13,579 pounds of walleye and were assessed hooking mortality of 38,490 pounds which counts against the non-tribal harvest quota for the year.

Another laundry-list omission: the alarmingly low percentage of males in the walleye population. In the 2013 sampling, only 39 percent of the walleyes were males. DNR biologists suspect that the gender imbalance is the result of the tribal harvest, which runs 80 to 90 percent male, in addition to the non-tribal harvest which is heavy to males because slot limits force anglers to target the smaller fish. The long-term effects of the gender imbalance are unknown.

But the DNR didn’t need my input on the issues of cannibalism and heavy predation by other fish species; they knew exactly what was going on. “The pattern of year classes starting out strong but diminishing significantly over time has been occurring since 2000,” DNR said in the 2008 Technical Committee report. “Lower survival of young fish may be a recruitment response to the increased numbers of large fish since treaty management began in 1997,” they concluded.

So if the DNR understood this problem and most of the others on the above laundry list, why haven’t they taken stronger action to solve them? Cannibalism, for example, could be reduced by adjusting the slot to allow more harvest of large walleyes. That, in turn, would increase levels of perch and other forage fish, thereby benefitting smaller walleyes. But as the DNR reminds us every time this solution is proposed, harvest of more large walleyes would put us above the safe harvest level as dictated by the TREATY-MANAGEMENT system.

So how can we fix Mille Lacs? We must discontinue treaty management and establish a biologically-sound system that allows managers to manage with all of the tools at their disposal, not with one hand tied behind their back. That will require the State to go back to court and show that treaty management is un-biological, unfair to anglers and unlikely to restore the premier walleye fishery for which the lake has long been known.

It’s STILL the nets

Dennis Anderson’s ‘stern steps’ for Mille Lacs

Dennis Anderson in the Star Tribune yesterday wrote about the Mille Lacs walleye problem, “Mille Lacs predicament requires stern steps.” Anderson’s “stern steps” started with “No nets for the Chippewa, no keepers for the rest.”

For starters, PERM recognizes Anerson for writing on an issue so often avoided by Minnesota journalists—gillnets in Mille Lacs during spawn, and “treaty fisheries management.”

Last March Anderson nailed it when he pointed out the “real problem” with walleyes on Mille Lacs by writing “it’s the nets!”

This time, after touching on a number of confounding factors, Anderson only says the gillnets “in and of themselves” are “not entirely” the lake’s problem. This time he says it’s a combination of the gillnets and the harvest slots.

Remember how the DNR and State blamed state anglers for over limits taken as a major part of the collapse of Red Lake, with twice the surface area of Mille Lacs?

Another confounding factor maybe, but Mr. Anderson, it’s STILL the gillnets!

One recent assessment of gillnets showed there were eight MILES of tribal gillnets on Mille Lacs during the spawn! Taking the egg-filed female walleyes during spawn is still the primary problem.

Anderson gets more on track asking “what to do?” He suggests the DNR should go to Governor Dayton for an OK to ask the tribes to pull their gillnets until the walleye population recovers. Then he backs away with a much more modest “secondary possibility,” ask the tribes to “focus their harvest on bigger walleyes.”

But he returns again with a solid “if they refuse either option, the state should take them to court.”

Remember, the Governor and the DNR are still responsible for all the natural resources in the state of Minnesota. They always had the authority to do what is necessary to protect Minnesota’s natural resources.

Anderson opens up the discussion by asking for any better ideas, a sample of which he promises to publish in future weeks. (Send to

This would be a good time to suggest politically-driven, politically-correct half-measures have had their day. The fading Mille Lacs sports fishing economy demands no less.

Read the rest of Anderson’s Mille Lacs predicament here. Be sure to check out the comments too.

Joe Fellegy calls for pro-Minnesota policies and action in place of “tribal-training”

Contradictory rulings on the illegal sale of walleyes by two federal judges (Kyle – charges stick; Tunheim – charges drop) on two sets of offenders from the same bust, opens the door to endlessly expanding interpretations of “treaty harvest rights.”

It’s another example of the unequal application of the law when anything tribal is involved. And it makes the common sense rule of “everyone hunts and fishes under the same laws” an increasingly remote possibility.

Gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton made promising comments in the Outdoor News booth at 2010 Game Fair. He called for equal fishing and hunting rights in Minnesota. So where’s Governor Dayton’s fix? Nowhere. Instead, Gov. Dayton signed Executive Order 13-10, mandating all Executive Branch agencies to develop regular tribal consultation, tribal-friendly practices, and a stew of collaborations, interactions, and trainings.

Order 13-10 training for Executive Branch agencies, which already have numerous agency-tribal liaisons, should be replaced with much-needed transparency and accountability on tribal matters.

Read more “Trade tribal-training Order for pro-Minnesota policies, action” by Joe Fellegy Outdoor News December 6, 2013