Anderson: DNR fisheries chief addresses walleyes on Mille Lacs

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 22, 2014 - 2:00 AM

New Minnesota DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira tries to answer the unanswerable: What’s wrong with Mille Lacs walleyes?

hide

CHIPPEWA NETS: The same fish targeted by angler restrictions in recent years have made up the bulk of walleyes netted in spring by Minnesota and Wisconsin Chippewa bands.

New Minnesota DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira tries  to answer the unanswerable: What's wrong with Mille Lacs walleyes?

Q: What’s the status of Mille Lacs walleyes?

A: We have an abundance of spawning females. But there’s an elevated mortality of young walleyes, and we’re not sure why. Walleyes are in the lake in good numbers after the spawn, but they’re not surviving in sufficient numbers as yearlings and 2-year-olds. We haven’t had a notable year class since 2008, and good year classes before then were too infrequent.

 

Q: Reasons?

A: Our leading hypothesis is that they are probably dying from elevated predation. Mille Lacs became clearer and clearer beginning in the late 1990s. At the same time, we detected that walleyes were moving offshore at a much smaller size than they historically have. We think that the clearer water, and the predation that it might have encouraged, might have been the reason. Meanwhile, we know that smallmouth bass in the lake have increased dramatically, as have larger walleyes and northern pike, all of which prey at times on small walleyes. That said, we’re unsure exactly how these things work together.

 

Q: When might you figure it out?

A: We had a good predator diet study this year. But fish feed differently, year by year. We’ll get an initial look at which predators are consuming young walleye this year, but will certainly firm up this work with additional years of predator diet sampling.

 

Q: Have Mille Lacs regulations protected too many big walleyes, which in turn feed on small walleyes?

A: It’s possible. But I want to stress that Mille Lacs appears to be unique in that regard. We’ve had similar protective slots on Rainy Lake for 20 years and on Winnie for 10 years. We’re still seeing good reproduction on those lakes, without loss of year classes as the fish mature. But regarding Mille Lacs, the mistake we might have made was focusing fishing mortality on walleyes 15-18 inches long. We now know a sustainable fishery should be exploited across a broad age and size range.

 

Q: On Mille Lacs, harvest quotas for anglers and Chippewa netters are set by poundage. So if you allow more big walleyes to be kept, quotas will be reached more quickly.

A: True. But first we need to focus on getting the system recovered. As we do that, or when we do, we’ll have to spread harvest across a broader size of fish. How the bands accomplish that, we don’t know. We don’t know how we’ll do it, either. Again, there’s a degree of speculation in what I’m saying, because we haven’t completed all of our research.

 

Q: Do you envision angler regulations changing on Mille Lacs this year, from an 18- to 20-inch harvest slot, with one allowed over 28 inches, and a two-fish bag?

A: We hope to keep it where it is, but nothing is on the table right now. It appears the bite will be slow, because yellow perch are abundant for forage. We will meet with the Mille Lacs advisory committee and discuss it.

 

Q: Why are you using outside experts to look at the lake?

A: Fisheries science is complex. Sometimes it’s good to have a fresh look. The people at Michigan State, for instance, have studied our Mille Lacs model and have given us feedback. Another expert we’re working with is highly knowledgeable in walleye mortality. Another knows zebra mussels and their relation to clearer water, increased plant growth and pike predation. I’m excited about the intellectual power we’re bringing to the issue.

 

Q: What have you told the Chippewa about your assessment of the lake and your plans?

A: We’ve kept them informed. They’re supportive, and and the Federal court is clear that the State can only object to tribal interests for reasons of conservation or health and human safety.

 

Q: Is there hope for a walleye rebound?

A: I think so. Most vexing are the ecological changes. There’s just a lot going on in that lake. Additionally, it was a sort of a perfect storm when the tribal fishery began at the same time the lake began changing.

 

Q: Some observers have advocated shutting down the lake to walleye harvests to let the fishery recover.

A: I don’t want to speculate about that. We will do everything we can to sustain resorts and area businesses while we figure this thing out. The state tourism people will help by stressing the diversity of attractions in the area while we work on the walleye issue.

 

Q: Talk about northern pike.

A: Milfoil has expanded dramatically in the lake, out to 18-foot depths. We know pike like plants. Does the plant expansion explain why pike have increased? If we think it does, we may promote the lake’s pike fishery.

 

Q: Are smallmouth bass eating the small walleyes?

A: We won’t prosecute a particular fish until we find out it’s a problem. There’s not a lot of literature that says smallies prey disproportionately on walleyes. Though July, their diet in Mille Lacs is mostly on crayfish.

 

Q: Do you have the money and staff to do what you need to do on Mille Lacs?

A: We’re taking money from other projects. We’re pulling staff from throughout the state. It’s a huge problem and it’s worthy of a lot of attention.

 

Q: Finally, do muskies play a role?

A: The lake’s muskies are low-density. We manage muskies statewide for one fish per 4 acres. On Mille Lacs, it’s one fish per 50 acres. If you’re a muskie angler, you won’t catch a lot of fish in Mille Lacs. But if you do, chances are good it’s longer than 50 inches.

 

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com









 

  • related content

  • BIG WALLEYES PREYING ON SMALL WALLEYES? DNR biologists now theorize that the numerous large walleyes in Mille Lacs might be among predators feasting on small walleyes, preventing successive year classes of the fish from reaching maturity.

  • ZEBRA MUSSEL EXPLOSION: Zebra mussels increase water clarity, perhaps contributing to higher efficiencies of predators that seek Mille Lacs walleyes. Zebra mussel numbers have risen exponentially in Mille Lacs.

  • THE ECONOMY: A late spring and a restrictive bag limit slowed fishing on Mille Lacs lasst summer. And fishing this winter began slow due to lake slush hampering access.

  • Pereira

  • SMALLIES, SMALLIES AND MORE SMALLIES: The Mille Lacs smallmouth bass population has risen dramatically in recent years, aided, perhaps, by regulations restricting anglers' harvest of the feisty fish. Are smallmouth bass among predators that are causing the mysterious disappearances of young walleyes before they mature? ORG XMIT: MIN1209051411520903

  • TOO MANY NORTHERNS? The Mille Lacs northern pike population has risen significantly. Combined with the lake’s clearer water, due to environmental regulations and perhaps zebra mussels, pike might be more efficient than ever at consuming the lake’s walleyes.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Atlanta 6 FINAL
Detroit 4
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
Houston 6
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Miami 1
Baltimore 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
NY Yankees 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Chicago Cubs 6 FINAL
San Francisco 8
Los Angeles 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox 1
San Diego 4 FINAL
Seattle 9
Cleveland 9 FINAL
Cincinnati 3
Milwaukee 2 FINAL
LA Angels 3
Oakland 2 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 2
Texas 4 FINAL
Kansas City 5
Colorado 3 FINAL
Arizona 4
NY Mets 4 FINAL
Washington 5
Boston 8 FINAL
Minnesota 9
Toronto 0 FINAL
Baltimore 5
Oklahoma City 105 FINAL
Chicago 108
Dallas 29 2nd Qtr 6:37
Portland 28
Calgary 4 FINAL(SO)
Boston 3
St. Louis 1 FINAL
Philadelphia 3
Minnesota 2 FINAL
Washington 1
Toronto 2 FINAL
Tampa Bay 4
Dallas 4 FINAL(SO)
Florida 3
NY Islanders 4 FINAL
Nashville 3
Vancouver 1 3rd Prd 5:58
Arizona 2
Montreal 0 2nd Prd
Los Angeles 2
Morgan State 76 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 89
Niagara 54 FINAL
Siena 71
Holy Cross 83 FINAL
Bucknell 90
Western Ky 88 FINAL
Charlotte 84
Navy 62 FINAL
Colgate 72
Temple 70 FINAL
East Carolina 56
UAB 59 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 62
Boston Univ 64 FINAL
Lafayette 89
American Univ 68 FINAL
Lehigh 62
Wisconsin 76 FINAL
Minnesota 63
Fairfield 33 FINAL
Saint Peters 63
Arkansas 78 FINAL
South Carolina 74
Morehead State 76 FINAL
UT Martin 65
USC Upstate 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 62
Lipscomb 57 FINAL
North Florida 71
Southern Ill 55 FINAL
Missouri State 48
Texas State 64 FINAL
Appalachian St 67
SC State 62 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 72
Delaware State 104 FINAL
Coppin State 92
Middle Tennessee 54 FINAL
FIU 59
Texas-Arlington 64 FINAL
Ga Southern 76
Norfolk State 80 FINAL
Hampton 69
NC A&T 58 FINAL
NC Central 69
Savannah State 57 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Southern Miss 61 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 72
Marshall 50 FINAL
Old Dominion 67
Rice 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 74
South Alabama 81 FINAL
Arkansas State 76
Alabama State 70 FINAL
Grambling St 46
Alabama A&M 54 FINAL
Jackson State 72
Sam Houston St 67 FINAL
Lamar 61
Georgia State 58 FINAL
ULM 50
Central Arkansas 70 FINAL
Nicholls 77
Portland State 51 FINAL
Northern Ariz 58
Southern U 77 FINAL
Prairie View 73
Alcorn State 73 FINAL
Texas Southern 94
Houston Baptist 72 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 85
Ark-Little Rock 69 FINAL
Louisiana 75
SE Louisiana 79 FINAL
New Orleans 85
California 60 FINAL
Arizona 99
Memphis 54 FINAL
Connecticut 53
VA Commonwealth 55 FINAL
Davidson 82
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Sacramento St 65 FINAL
Southern Utah 69
Northwestern St 66 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 92
North Texas 60 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 83
Colorado 64 FINAL
Washington 47
Idaho 63 FINAL
Weber State 74
Abilene Christian 52 FINAL
Incarnate Word 64
Eastern Wash 85 FINAL
Idaho State 81
Marist 80 FINAL
Quinnipiac 74
Eastern Ill 64 FINAL
Belmont 97
Bradley 43 2nd Half 0:50
Drake 43
Cal State Fullerton 29 2nd Half 11:46
UC Irvine 37
CS-Northridge 31 2nd Half 15:03
Long Beach State 39
UC Riverside 43 2nd Half 11:54
UC Davis 35
Stanford 4 1st Half 16:38
Arizona State 3
Utah 4 1st Half 12:22
Washington St 9
Monmouth 68 FINAL
Canisius 56
Wake Forest 85 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 79
Saint Louis 65 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 58
Saint Peters 62 FINAL
Rider 54
UNC-Asheville 51 FINAL
Liberty 59
UNC Greensboro 44 FINAL
(17) Chattanooga 78
Michigan State 69 FINAL
Michigan 49
Arkansas 72 FINAL
Ole Miss 61
Manhattan 51 FINAL
Niagara 57
Massachusetts 63 FINAL
Richmond 67
Virginia 52 FINAL
Miami-Florida 62
Jacksonville St 45 FINAL
Belmont 55
Morgan State 65 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 50
Campbell 65 FINAL
Winthrop 52
Furman 65 FINAL
Samford 54
Oregon 64 FINAL
Washington St 66
Indiana 52 FINAL
(23) Rutgers 63
Pepperdine 67 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 68
Auburn 47 FINAL
(18) Texas A&M 57
Morehead St 66 FINAL
Tennessee St 81
George Mason 43 FINAL
Saint Josephs 71
Western Carolina 53 FINAL
East Tenn St 73
Arizona 62 FINAL
UCLA 80
FIU 30 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 79
Texas State 55 FINAL
Appalachian St 61
TX-Arlington 66 FINAL
Georgia Southern 41
SC State 57 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 56
Delaware State 51 FINAL
Coppin State 80
Portland 58 FINAL
Santa Clara 66
Norfolk State 49 FINAL
Hampton 64
Florida Atlantic 56 FINAL
UAB 59
NC A&T 67 FINAL
NC Central 46
Savannah State 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 51
Virginia Tech 51 FINAL
Pittsburgh 45
Central Arkansas 43 FINAL
Nicholls 53
Houston Baptist 48 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 73
Gardner-Webb 70 FINAL
Radford 56
Georgia 75 FINAL
Missouri 64
Old Dominion 67 FINAL
Marshall 55
Ark-Little Rock 68 FINAL
Louisiana 66
South Alabama 60 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
Georgia State 66 FINAL
ULM 61
Sam Houston St 73 FINAL
Lamar 92
SE Louisiana 75 FINAL
New Orleans 84
Northwestern St 45 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 56
Alabama A&M 58 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Alabama State 68 FINAL
Grambling 62
Southern U 78 FINAL
Prairie View 50
Alcorn State 55 FINAL
Texas Southern 73
Ark-Pine Bluff 0 Postponed
Miss Valley St 0
Wofford 54 FINAL
Mercer 75
Abilene Christian 72 FINAL
Incarnate Word 62
La Salle 60 FINAL
Rhode Island 65
Illinois 71 FINAL
Nebraska 86
TX-San Antonio 60 FINAL
Rice 49
Valparaiso 55 FINAL
Oakland 70
Missouri State 65 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Georgia Tech 64 FINAL
(15) North Carolina 84
Charlotte 72 FINAL
Western Ky 80
Texas-El Paso 69 FINAL
North Texas 61
Wichita State 77 FINAL
Evansville 63
Loyola-Chicago 64 FINAL
Northern Iowa 69
Bradley 70 FINAL
Drake 86
Presbyterian 62 FINAL
High Point 75
Vanderbilt 61 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 67
Colorado 75 FINAL
USC 63
San Francisco 74 FINAL
Pacific 64
Idaho State 58 FINAL
Eastern Washington 62
Weber State 42 FINAL
Idaho 71
Purdue 70 2nd Half 0:58
Minnesota 74
Cal-Irvine 40 2nd Half 11:06
Cal State Fullerton 44
Long Beach St 40 2nd Half 11:53
CS-Northridge 59
Hawaii 44 2nd Half 10:37
UC Santa Barbara 28
UC Davis 44 2nd Half 9:04
UC-Riverside 46
Northern Ariz 64 2nd Half 7:30
Portland State 46
Southern Utah 43 2nd Half 13:45
Sacramento St 73
Utah 10:30 PM
Washington
BYU 10:30 PM
St Marys-CA
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close