Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary (the title that state uses instead of "commissioner'') Cathy Stepp reacted strongly Monday to that state's annual tribal walleye harvest declarations issued by Chippewa bands.
Never before, Stepp said, have the Chippewa declared so many lakes that will result in angler walleye limits on those waters to be reduced to one.
Fully 197 lakes declared by the Chippewa on Monday will lead to one-walleye angler limits, Stepp said, compared to 10 lakes previously that fell into that category.
Among them is the Three Lakes chain in northwest Wisconsin, a popular destination for tourists and anglers.
The Chippewa are within their rights, Stepp said, to seek the higher limits for their band members.
But one band, she said — the Lac du Flambeau — named 232 of their 233 lakes as two-walleye limits for anglers. In doing so, she said, the band essentially voided unilaterally a 16-year agreement with the state.
As part of that agreement, Stepp said, the Tribe received $84,500 from the state to maintain the three-walleye bag limit. They also received revenue generated through sales of snowmobile, ATV and fishing license sales on reservation.
"Based on the tribe’s breach of the agreement, the department has no choice but to withhold the payment and the license revenue,'' Stepp said.
“Wisconsin's strong walleye fishery and the tourism it produces are very important in northern Wisconsin. As secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, sustaining our fishery is foremost in my priorities
"The Chippewa tribes are acting lawfully within their treaty rights. However, over the past 10 years, we have seen a maximum of 10 lakes declared at one time for one-walleye bag limits. This drastic increase in lakes named at a one-walleye bag limit is significant, unprecedented, and a challenge to long-standing partnerships.
"I remain committed to building on the successful partnerships we have expanded upon and enjoyed together over my two years as DNR Secretary. However, I will stand up for state interests, including angler harvest opportunities and the benefits they bring to local economies.
"Be assured, the increased declarations do not endanger the fishery. The DNR manages the fishery and has developed a nationally respected system designed to protect water bodies from over harvest.
"Over the next few weeks, DNR aims to work with the tribes in an effort to negotiate a reduction in their declarations.
"We have displayed a willingness to cooperate and negotiate with all of Wisconsin’s tribes, and we have many success stories that represent that partnership.
"We will continue to be available to work with the Chippewa tribes for the proper management of our state's abundant and important natural resources. All of Wisconsin's citizens--tribal and non-tribal--expect and deserve that.”
BACKGROUND (from the Wisconsin DNR): As part of a 1983 federal Appellate Court decision affirming Chippewa off-reservation hunting, fishing, and gathering rights, the six bands of Wisconsin Chippewa set annual harvest quotas for off-reservation lakes in the Wisconsin Ceded Territory. As part of subsequent court agreements, the Department of Natural Resources reduces bag limits for recreational hook and line anglers in lakes declared for harvest by the Chippewa bands to assure the combined tribal and recreational angler harvest in a lake does not jeopardize the stability of that lake’s walleye population.