Carcasses found in three spots are an embarrassment for the eight Chippewa bands that net Lake Mille Lacs.
Tuesday evening, a neighboring landowner of Dennis and Ruby Tenhoff of rural Isle, Minn., knocked on their door. "So, what do you think of the fish?'' the neighbor asked.
"What fish?'' Ruby Tenhoff responded.
"The fish dumped on your property.''
So began an embarrassment to the eight Chippewa bands who have netted Mille Lacs this spring -- an embarrassment perhaps felt most keenly by Mille Lacs band members, the only ones to live on, or even near, Lake Mille Lacs.
The fish the neighbor referred to included hundreds of filleted walleye carcasses.
The dumping on the Renhoff's property is one of three being investigated by wardens of the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), as well as Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officers.
A second dumping of walleye and northern carcasses occurred along a rural Mille Lacs-area road this week, while a third mess of cleaned fish, along with 23 whole northern pike weighing about 90 pounds, was found in a resort dumpster.
The offenders, if caught, will be charged in their respective tribal courts.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also could bring littering charges, said conservation officer Mike Lee, who patrols the Mille Lacs area.
It's unlikely Mille Lacs band members are involved, people close to the case say. Not only do they have fish-carcass disposal facilities on their reservation, they reached their walleye quota quickly this spring, ending their harvest after taking 24,428 pounds of their 27,000-pound limit.
"The Mille Lacs band is very upset about the dumped fish carcasses,'' said John Dunkley, the Mille Lacs band's acting DNR commissioner. "Littering and wasting goes against our tradition.''
The offenders, if caught, should be prosecuted and punished, he said Thursday.
Fond du Lac -- the only other Minnesota band of the eight that net Mille Lacs -- similarly had reached its quota soon after netting began and had left the area by Sunday.
The other six Chippewa bands are from Wisconsin.
Mille Lacs walleyes are netted by the bands in spring when the fish gather in shallows to spawn. Nets this spring generally were set in 3 to 5 feet of water. The nets are 100 feet long, 4 feet tall and usually have mesh sizes of 1¾ inch.
The average size of the walleyes caught in the nets is just over 2 pounds, according to GLIFWC biologists. But on Tuesday morning, many walleyes in the 3- and 4-pound range were seen taken from tribal nets.
The eight bands started netting Mille Lacs after a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming their hunting, fishing and gathering rights in a 12-county region of east-central Minnesota that includes the big lake.
The bands' Mille Lacs walleye quota this spring is 132,500 pounds, the highest since the state lost its case in the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling.
Sport anglers, meanwhile, will be allowed just over 400,000 pounds of walleyes this year, but generally will be restricted to keeping only walleyes less than 18 inches, weighing about 1 1/2 pounds.
Hook-and-line fishing on Mille Lacs last summer was poor, with anglers harvesting only 141,000 pounds of their 414,500-pound quota. Walleyes kept by anglers last year generally also had to be less than 18 inches.
Lee, the state DNR officer, said he responded this week when called by McQuoid's Inn Resort on Mille Lacs, where 23 whole northern pike were found in a dumpster along with hundreds of walleye carcasses.
Asked how he removed the fish from the dumpster, Lee said, "I climbed in and dug them out. I'm a former police officer. I've climbed into dumpsters for worse reasons.''
Whole fish can never be dumped, a wanton waste violation according to both state and tribal law.
Authority over the Chippewa netters at Mille Lacs in spring in almost all instances falls to the GLIFWC wardens. Even Mille Lacs band conservation officers -- who are given high marks by their Minnesota state DNR counterparts -- take a back seat.
GLIFWC's headquarters are in Wisconsin, from which it oversees tribal harvests not only at Mille Lacs, but on lands and waters across a broad swath of northern Wisconsin.
Some -- perhaps many -- Mille Lacs band members oppose netting there by the Wisconsin bands. That resentment likely will only grow, said one band member.
"We have to live here,'' he said.
Dennis Anderson • email@example.com
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