Two meetings are scheduled this week to help the Department of Natural Resources develop a new management plan for Mille Lacs.
DNR Mille Lacs area fisheries supervisor Tom Heinrich will lead discussions Tuesday at Mille Lacs Kathio State Park on Mille Lacs and Thursday at Indian Mounds Regional Park in St. Paul.
“The idea is to develop a new fisheries management plan for Mille Lacs and to gather input on how that should be done,” Heinrich said. “How, for example, should we manage the state’s Mille Lacs walleye allocation?”
One example, Heinrich said, might be to close Mille Lacs to walleye fishing, including catch-and-release, for a period in summer, which would eliminate hooking mortality during that time.
“In a situation like that, we perhaps could allow a longer walleye harvest period at other times on Mille Lacs,’’ Heinrich said.
Walleyes will be the focus of the meetings because bass and muskie anglers who fish Mille Lacs have little interest in harvesting their target species, Heinrich said.
“We do have a little harvest leeway with northern pike, so we can talk about that,” he said.
Thanks to a regulation allowing one walleye between 21 and 23 inches long (or one longer than 28 inches) caught between the May 11 opener and the end of that month to be kept, Mille Lacs angling pressure increased significantly this summer.
The one-fish harvest allowance in May broke a string of summers during which anglers couldn’t keep any Mille Lacs walleyes, due to what fisheries managers say is the lake’s challenged walleye population.
Anglers fishing Mille Lacs in May registered an estimated 195,000 hours of pressure, almost double the amount for the same period last year.
Pressure on Mille Lacs remained strong during the first half of June, said Eric Jensen, DNR large lake specialist, with 112,000 angling hours registered.
“We estimate that 68,700 walleyes were caught and released during that period, with an estimated walleye hooking mortality of 5,300 pounds,” Jensen said.
From Dec. 1 through June 15, Mille Lacs anglers either harvested or lost to hooking mortality an estimated 36,450 pounds of walleyes. The state’s yearlong Mille Lacs walleye sportfishing allocation is 87,800 pounds.
Jensen said smallmouth bass harvesting remains minimal on Mille Lacs, noting that only an estimated 100 smallies have been kept from the lake this year, weighing about 100 pounds.
Another 52,750 Mille Lacs bass have been caught and released, Jensen said.
Meanwhile, the eight Chippewa bands that co-manage Mille Lacs with the DNR harvested about 45,000 pounds of walleyes this spring, mostly by net, leaving the bands about 17,000 pounds short of their quota.
Times for the gatherings on Tuesday at Mille Lacs and on Thursday in St. Paul are 6-8 p.m. Anglers who are unable to attend can offer opinions online at surveymonkey.com/r/MilleLacs.