Last weekend, a peaceful group of anglers, business owners and Lake Mille Lacs-area residents took to the water to voice their displeasure with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s (DNR) management of the lake to Gov. Mark Dayton, who was making an appearance on the lake to promote its world-class bass fishing.
The governor, irate with the presence of business owners and anglers engaged in a peaceful protest, turned his boat around and headed to shore just a short while after his trip had started. He then canceled a previously scheduled meeting with area business owners whose livelihoods have been devastated by repeated closures of the lake to walleye fishing.
I find it curious that the governor went out of his way to meet with protesters who illegally shut down interstates and with extreme anti-pipeline protesters who stormed the stage and interrupted his speech at his 2017 Water Summit, but that he abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting with this group of people who showed up to voice their concerns about his administration’s handling of walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs.
Simply put, anglers, resort owners and area residents whose livelihoods are affected by the health of the walleye population are tired of the uncertainty of the future of walleye fishing on the lake, and like many other groups, organized to show that concern directly to the leader of our state. It’s extremely disheartening that rather than stick around to listen to their concerns, the governor quite literally took his ball and went home. That isn’t the leadership our region or our state deserves.
I implore the governor to promptly return to Lake Mille Lacs, listen to the concerns being voiced by those whose businesses and way of life are at stake in this, and work with us rather than continue the adversarial relationship that has developed between his administration and our community.
We understand the urgency for meaningful action to save the walleye population because our businesses and the health of our communities depend on it. Mille Lacs-area residents are simply asking for a seat at the table and to feel like the DNR is listening. We simply can’t have another season of unpredictable regulations that affect reservations and bookings and result in lost revenue.
The DNR and state tourism officials can and should continue to promote the excellent muskie and bass fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, but the fact is that this community was built on world-class walleye fishing. Thousands of anglers come here each year not just to fish, but to fish for walleye.
It’s time for us to look for solutions that are evidence-based that will begin to rebuild the declining population without irreparably harming the businesses and jobs of residents in our community. We urge the governor to join us and listen to us — not to flee from this difficult discussion.
Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, is a member of the Minnesota House. She represents much of the area surrounding Lake Mille Lacs.