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Mille Lacs walleye quota already exceeded; reopening of lake delayed

 

 

Mille Lacs walleye anglers have already exceeded their annual harvest quota of 44,800 pounds, the Department of Natural Resources said Friday afternoon — even though the anglers have been restricted to catch-and-release fishing all summer.

The unexpected announcement means walleye fishing on the big lake can't resume until Friday, Aug. 11, the DNR said. Mille Lacs walleye fishing was scheduled to start again July 27, following a nearly three-week shutdown intended to keep anglers within their harvest quota.

The DNR said Friday it plans to invoke a provision in its agreement with eight Chippewa bands that share management of the lake's fisheries that will give anglers another 11,000 pounds of "harvest.'' The additional poundage should allow walleye fishing on Mille Lacs to continue through Sept. 4, the date previously set for a season-ending closure imposed  to keep walleyes within their annual quota.

Walleye fishing will begin again on Mille Lacs on Dec. 1, when the harvest quota the DNR negotiates with the Chippewa is reset for another year. (The bands' Mille Lacs quota this year was 19,200 pounds.)

The DNR uses a formula based on creel data gathered at boat landings to estimate how many walleyes die after being caught and released by anglers. This is how the DNR determines "harvest'' even though anglers are not allowed to keep any fish.

As recently as last week, the DNR said anglers had harvested an estimated 31,769 pounds of Mille Lacs walleyes as of June 30.

But high walleye catch rates have been the rule this summer on Mille Lacs. And angler effort, measured by the number of anglers fishing the lake, is about double what it was in 2016, the DNR said Friday.

“Cooler than normal temperatures kept hooking mortality rates low, but more anglers fished Mille Lacs, particularly catching walleye longer than 20 inches,” DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira said. “That increased the poundage of fish caught and put us over our walleye quota.”

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Pereira noted in a press release  that allowing for additional catch-and-release fishing in August is essential for area anglers and businesses.

Throughout the closure, anglers on Mille Lacs Lake may fish for all other species in the lake including bass, muskies and northern pike. When fishing for other species, only artificial baits and lures will be allowed in possession, except for anglers targeting northern pike or muskie, who may fish with sucker minnows longer than 8 inches.

A prohibition on night fishing will remain in place from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. through Nov. 30. However, anglers may fish for muskie and northern pike at night, but may only use artificial lures longer than 8 inches or sucker minnows longer than 8 inches. Bowfishing for rough fish also is allowed at night but possession of angling equipment is not allowed and only rough fish may be in possession.

Pereira said that a declining fish population can nevertheless offer excellent fishing, a condition he believes is occurring on Mille Lacs. This can occur in part because there is a shortage of food for larger walleyes. Last fall’s assessment showed that larger walleye were thinner than average.

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State mallard numbers drop 15 percent; bluewings down also

Mallard numbers declined by 15 percent this spring compared to a year ago, said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. Blue-wing teal numbers also plummeted — by 51 percent statewide.

In a press release, the DNR said:

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 214,000, which is 15 percent below last year’s estimate of 250,000 breeding mallards and 6 percent below the long-term average measured each year since 1968.

The blue-winged teal population is 159,000 this year, 51 percent below last year’s estimate and 25 percent below the long-term average.

The combined populations of other ducks such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads is 263,000, which is 23 percent higher than last year and 48 percent above the long-term average.

The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) is 636,000, which is 19 percent lower than last year and 3 percent above the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands was 20 percent higher than last year and 5 percent above the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.

Canada goose population increases

This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 322,000 geese, higher than last year’s estimate of 202,000 geese and 9 percent above the long-term average.

“With the early spring and favorable habitat, Canada geese had a very good nesting year and there are lots of young goslings present across the state,” Cordts said.

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas of the state and includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities area metro area.

The 2017 Minnesota waterfowl report is available at mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

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