While attending the virtual MLFAC meeting, a couple of weeks ago, it became clearer to me how the MN DNR’s role in the lake’s co-management may still be discriminating against non-tribal anglers.

They are charged with the job of protecting our Natural Resources for all Minnesotans. But that’s not happening. Instead, under the current co-management of Mille Lacs, the DNR’s focus has been on hasty solutions—that hang around forever. “Mis-management” if you ask me. Plenty of walleyes are still there. Proper management is not!

Mille Lacs Messenger Editor Traci Lebrun’s August 20 report on that MLFAC meeting, MLFAC committee discusses remainder of walleye season, is a good overview of the meeting. It includes details that I believe relate to discrimination.

The DNR admits that neither they nor the Tribal governments have a long-range plan for what once was a gem of a walleye-angling destination. The DNR has a draft plan ready for next year. They just haven’t been able to get a tribal review of it.

This is the plan that will replace the notorious, secretly negotiated, three-plus-year “consensus agreement” from four years ago. This time around at least, the DNR is not in the position of thinking they have to make amends for a 6,000 pound overage while trying to “negotiate” quotas.

There was a lot of discussion about creating “goals of the fishery” as a way to get more support from both parties to a Mille Lacs “co-management” plan.

Harder to explain was coming up with a plan not knowing what the Bands’ goals are. Showing all your cards while the bands hide theirs is “unacceptable,” according to MLFAC Co-Chair Steve Johnson. Others agreed. It’s not a co-management system unless both sides sit down together.

Isn’t that discrimination if there’s no level playing field?

Rep. Sondra Erickson came up with a version of both sides sitting down together. She says her constituents want the DNR to stand up for anglers when negotiating with the Bands. They can start by allowing two MLFAC members to be part of the meeting with tribal members.

She said it sounds “odd” to call it co-management, when Mille Lacs owners, anglers, and others affected, aren’t involved. I call it discrimination.

And—if negotiations are between the MN DNR and tribal entities—shouldn’t the legislature be involved and vote on the plan? The Great Lakes Indian Fishing and Wildlife Commission speaks for all the bands. Wouldn’t having the Legislature behind John Q Angler help level the playing field?

Past MLFAC meetings have touched on how a Five-Year plan would really help Mille Lacs area businesses plan their livelihood. It would but it has to be done right. Get past the politics. Get past the bioscience silos. Arrange for public input, including expertise from those making a living from the lake. Stand up for all Minnesotans.

Steve Johnson’s flagging a huge overabundance of spawning stock biomass in Mille Lacs in comparison to Red Lake is an example of local hands-on expertise. Mille Lacs is a lake out of balance. Total capacity to reproduce is reaching a tipping point. After which Mother Nature will restore balance, and it could be catastrophically. Start actual (not hooking mortality) harvesting to maintain this natural resource over time. Start now before Mother Nature does it for you.

If harvesting is held hostage to co-management protocols due to politics (and yes, protocols can be changed if both sides work together), then the DNR would be allowing discrimination against non-band anglers.

Steve Johnson asked that the economic impact of any goal be assessed. The Mille Lacs economy was created by the lake as a walleye-angling destination. Actual harvest from this lake supports the economy and needs to be preserved.

The tribes’ court-affirmed harvest rights are cultural, not economic. The courts ruled that harvest rights do not depend on whether or not harvest is needed for subsistence. But it is definitely an economic issue for non-band anglers, landowners, resorts and businesses. Ignoring that fact discriminates against them.

Read Traci Lebrun’s report for other ideas getting past the current “co-management” stalemate.