For the first time, efforts to get the lake's walleye population healthy again could mean separate rules for males and females.
How exactly a new Mille Lacs walleye harvest strategy will unfold in coming months for sport anglers and Chippewa netters is unclear, a Department of Natural Resources fisheries researcher said Tuesday. But the strong likelihood is that by next spring -- for the first time -- separate management and harvest plans for the lake's male and female walleyes will be in place on the state's premier walleye fishing lake.
Gone in the process might be walleye slot-size angling restrictions that remain unchanged on Mille Lacs a year at a time, replaced by "sliding slots" that adjust periodically.
Tribal netters also might have to vary the types of nets they use in order to release smaller, male walleyes, or otherwise alter the their fishing methods, times and/or locations.
The changes are needed because too few smaller, male walleyes exist in the lake, DNR fisheries research and policy manager Don Pereira said, potentially threatening all of the lake's walleyes.
The reduction of male walleyes is due at least in part to band members' nets catching these fish disproportionately during the spring spawn, the DNR says. The effect of sport angling on Mille Lacs male walleyes isn't as clearly understood, Periera said.
DNR studies being conducted this summer aim to determine more closely angling's effect on the lake's male walleyes.
Restrictions this year limit anglers to keeping only those Mille Lacs walleyes less than 17 inches long -- with the exception of one trophy more than 28 inches.
But the smaller walleyes have been extremely difficult for Mille Lacs anglers to find this summer, whereas larger, female walleyes have been abundant and easy to catch, with some fisherman boating and releasing 20 or more in an outing.
The DNR informed the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) of its Mille Lacs concerns in a letter last week. GLIFWC manages the Mille Lacs fishing rights of eight Minnesota and Wisconsin Chippewa bands, following a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming that the bands reserved off-reservation hunting and fishing rights in an 1837 treaty.
The affected region covers most of 12 east-central Minnesota counties, including Lake Mille Lacs.
GLIFWC officials haven't responded yet to the DNR. Scheduled to meet in late July, the two parties "will have to get together often this year,'' Pereira said.
Whether the envisioned strategy changes foretell a reduction in the lake's total annual walleye harvest is unknown. The "safe allowable harvest'' of Mille Lacs walleyes agreed to this year by the state and GLIFWC is 500,000 pounds, with sport anglers awarded 357,500 pounds and tribal members, 142,500 pounds.
It's possible, Pereira said, that both the bands' and anglers' walleye quotas will be cut. Or the allowable harvest might remain essentially unchanged, but reconfigured to include more females, and fewer males.
Dennis Anderson • email@example.com
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