The blue ribbon panel the Department of Natural Resources convened to double-check its Lake Mille Lacs fisheries management strategy has confirmed the big lake’s primary problem is a lack of survival among young walleyes.
“Our independent review of DNR management of Mille Lacs reached similar conclusions as the agency,” said Paul Venturelli, a quantitative fisheries ecologist at the university. “Mainly, more walleye are not surviving their first three years of life. It is unlikely that recreational or sustenance harvest is a root cause of this problem.”
The DNR asked the panel in early 2014 to review past and current management practices as part of an effort to increase the lake’s walleye population as quickly as possible.
According to a press release issued by the Unviersity of Minnesota:
Venturelli presented the panel’s work at the DNR’s annual roundtable with stakeholders today. To read the panel’s full report, see http://z.umn.edu/millelacswalleyepanel.
After collecting data from the DNR, the panel worked independently of the agency to come up with conclusions and make recommendations for Mille Lacs walleye management.
“The DNR opened up its books for our panel as we worked independently to examine the data and factors that may have contributed to the decline, and made recommendations to the agency about future actions that it could take involving data collection, research and management,” Venturelli said.
In addition to evaluating hypotheses about the walleye population decline, the panel made the following recommendations:
Revisit the methods used to determine annual target harvest levels.
Set conservative harvest regulations until the population improves or the lake’s system is better understood.
Determine the potential effect of cormorants on the walleye population and, if necessary, implement cormorant management.
Manage fish that prey on young walleye (northern pike, smallmouth bass and larger walleye) in ways that benefit young walleye survival.
Continue intensive fish population monitoring and other forms of data collection.
Avoid walleye stocking. Natural reproduction in Mille Lacs is already very high. Rather, the problem appears to be low survival from the first winter to approximately the third fall. Stocked fish would suffer the same fate and could exacerbate the problem by helping to sustain predator populations.
“The causes of the decline in survival are complex because of many direct, indirect, and interacting factors. But I think that we succeeded at narrowing the focus of the discussion,” Venturelli said.
According to Venturelli, the decline in the survival of young walleye started in the late 1980s, well before the fishery began to decline around the year 2000.
“And yet the population has been reproducing at high levels throughout this period and into the present,” Venturelli said. “The young just aren’t making it through. This is likely the result of walleye predation, and to a lesser degree, recent predation by pike and cormorants.”
Possible explanations for higher predation include fewer tullibee for larger walleye to feed on, improved water clarity and quality since the Clean Water Act of the 1970s and the possible effects of invasive species.
Don Pereira, Minnesota DNR chief of fisheries, thanked the group for their efforts on behalf of the improving Mille Lacs walleye fishery.
“While it would have been helpful if the panel could have identified a significant problem or approach to address the issue that we might have missed, it is reassuring that the panel’s findings indicate that we are on the right track for understanding and ultimately addressing the walleye decline,” Pereira said.
Other panel members were Jim Bence and Travis Brenden of the Quantitative Fisheries Center at Michigan State University; Nigel Lester, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the University of Toronto; and Lars Rudstam, Cornell University and Oneida Lake Field Station.
Plan to fish Upper Red this winter?
If so, expect tighter walleye harvest restrictions.
Starting Dec. 1, anglers can keep three walleyes, with a possession limit also of three. And the protected slot will be 17-26 inches. One walleye may be longer than 26 inches.
Until Dec. 1, the limit is four, with a protected slot of 20-26 inches.
“More restrictive walleye regulations are not an indication of any biological problems with the walleye population on Upper Red Lake,” said Gary Barnard, Bemidji area fisheries supervisor. “The current walleye fishery is in excellent shape, but the great fishing has attracted considerably more angling pressure, which resulted in walleye harvest exceeding the safe harvest range for the first time since walleye angling reopened in 2006.”
Harvest reduction was discussed at an Upper Red Lake Citizen Advisory Committee meeting in late September.
“Previous advisory meetings were easier when we were relaxing regulations, but everyone on the committee understands the importance of protecting this fishery and adhering to our joint harvest plan,” said advisory committee member Joe Corcoran.
The regulation package had full support from the committee as the best way to balance harvest reduction with business and angler interests, Corcoran added.
Minnesota hunters registered 54,000 deer during the first three days of firearms deer season, the DNR said Wednesday.
That's 30,000 less than on opening weekend in 2013. So far this year, including special hunts and the archery season, the total kill is 67,000 deer, down from 100,000 a year ago.
“Comparing this year’s harvest to harvests in previous years doesn't’t necessarily reflect hunter opportunity or the number of deer on the landscape in 2014,” said Leslie McInenly, DNR big game program leader. This year’s lower harvest is by design because regulations were implemented to place more deer – particularly does – off limits to increase Minnesota’s deer population.
Throughout much of Minnesota, deer hunting continues through Sunday, Nov. 16. The northern rifle zone season continues through Sunday, Nov. 23; the late southeastern season, runs Saturday, Nov. 22, through Sunday, Nov. 30; and the muzzleloader season, begins Saturday, Nov. 29, and continues through Sunday, Dec. 14.
Gov. Mark Dayton will convene a first-ever Minnesota pheasants summit in December.
Dayton announced his plan Thursday evening at a St. Paul Pheasants Forever chapter banquet. The gathering will include hunters, farmers, policymakers, conservationists, other stakeholders and members of the governor’s cabinet, Dayton said.
The goal will be to develop ways to boost the state’s pheasant population by improving upland habitat.
“For almost 60 years, I have enjoyed pheasant hunting in Minnesota,” said Dayton. “But the decisions we make today will determine whether future generations of Minnesotans will have those same opportunities. I look forward to convening this Minnesota Pheasant Summit, and developing strategies to improve the pheasant population in our state.”
Minnesota hunters are forecast to harvest an estimated 200,000 pheasants during this fall’s season from a pheasant population that is higher by 6 percent from 2013.
Yet Minnesota pheasant numbers remain 58 percent below the 10-year average, and 71 percent below the long-term average.
Dayton launched the state’s first-ever Governor’s Pheasant Opener in Montevideo in 2011. Since then, he has hosted similar openers in Marshall and Madelia.
On October 10-11, he will host the fourth Governor’s Pheasant Opener in Worthington.
Dayton's announcement follows a South Dakota pheasant summit held earlier this year that called for more money to be dedicated to conserving upland habitat.
Pheasant numbers throughout the nation's mid-section generally have declined in recent years, following the loss of Conservation Reserve Program acres. Farmers have pulled out of the set-aside program as commodity prices have increased, and corn and soybean plantings have spread into the Dakotas into previously undisturbed grasslands.
Freeport artist Scot Storm has won the 2015 Minnesota migratory waterfowl stamp contest, painting a harlequin duck, the third time Storm has won the annual competition.
The painting will be featured on the 2015 Minnesota "duck'' stamp. A total of 23 entries were submitted to the contest sponsored by the DNR. Storm previously won the competition in 2004 with a rendering of a common merganser, and in 2009 with a painting of a common goldeneye.
Placing second was Kurt Kegler; Tyler Maddaus was third; and Nicholas Markell, fourth.
DNR and conservation group judges selected the winning designs.
The $7.50 duck stamp is required of all Minnesota waterfowl hunters ages 18 through 64. Stamp sales generate about $700,000 a year for habitat enhancement projects on state wildlife management areas and shallow lakes.
No prize goes to the winner, but the featured artist retains the right to reproduce and sell his or her painting. Entries must be of an assigned species that breeds in or migrates through Minnesota. Next year it will be the widgeon.