Changes -- perhaps big ones -- are coming to the way Mille Lacs walleyes are managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), overseer of the lake for eight Chippewa bands.
In a letter e-mailed Friday to GLIFWC, the DNR said a shortage of male walleyes in Mille Lacs is worrisome, and "continued harvest management under the [current management system] may not be possible."
Sport anglers fishing with hook and line don't appear to be the problem, the DNR said. But "tribal fishery exploitation rates on [male walleyes in age classes 4-6] have increased ...resulting in the overall increase in exploitation rates on males."
Mesh sizes used by Chippewa who net Mille Lacs generally target the lake's smaller, mostly male, walleyes.
The DNR told the bands it had several Mille Lacs fishery concerns, and "that the concerns all center on conservation and affect the management of fish populations in Mille Lacs."
Mention of "conservation" was intentional, because in the court order directing the DNR to manage Mille Lacs with the bands, only certain criteria -- resource conservation being primary -- are cause for one party to seek management changes absent the other.
The bands are expected to respond to the DNR's letter before the two parties meet in July. If the bands disagree with the DNR, the agency likely will seek a mediator to resolve the conflict, as directed in the court order.
Again this summer, Mille Lacs anglers have had difficulty finding walleyes less than 17 inches long -- the size they are allowed to keep, with the exception of one over 28 inches. These smaller fish are mostly males, and the DNR says their absence might pose problems for all Mille Lacs walleyes.
"We know we have elevated mortality in young walleyes, and we're trying to figure out why," DNR fisheries research and policy manager Don Pereira said Friday. "It's fair to say we're in new territory."
The DNR also told the bands all sources of northern pike mortality during their netting must be accounted for, including release mortality.