Minnesotans who don’t fish are incapable of knowing how emotionally and in some cases financially exhausting the dramatic turn of events Tuesday will be for Mille Lacs walleye anglers and the businesses that depend on them.
The prospect of walleye fishing ending for the year on Mille Lacs — announced Tuesday as likely in early August by the Department of Natural Resources — would have been unimaginable as recently as five years ago.
And unfathomable before that.
Walleye sport fishing has been so deeply embedded in the psyche of generations of Minnesota anglers that not that long ago — in the 1960s, for example — paid-up reservation dates on some of the lake’s launches or group fishing boats were included in anglers’ wills.
That way, fights couldn’t erupt among heirs over Dad’s or Grandpa’s best fishing dates.
Not that one day or one month differed much from others back then. Mille Lacs walleye limits or near-limits at the time were all but guaranteed, whether wetting a line in May, June, July or August.
Now, walleye fishing on the big lake is likely to end until Dec. 1, the start of a new fishing year under the DNR’s court-ordered Mille Lacs co-management agreement with eight Chippewa bands.
So, here’s an idea: Regarding Mille Lacs walleyes and their management, let’s define “failure.”
This is intended only as a suggestion — not as disparagement of DNR and tribal fisheries managers, all of whom are as troubled as anglers over the lake’s downturn.
Still … one would have thought an annual overall harvest quota of 40,000 pounds of Mille Lacs walleyes (including 11,400 pounds for the Chippewa) would have been a reasonable definition of management failure.
After all, as DNR large lake specialist Eric Jensen noted in a Page 1A story today, in years past that quantity could have been boated on Mille Lacs on a good weekend.
Now, should shutting down the lake to walleye fishing in midseason define Mille Lacs walleye management failure?
If it doesn’t, what does?
Some people who live and work near Mille Lacs will disagree. But I believe the DNR has good Mille Lacs fisheries managers in place.
But a new plan is needed.
Maybe it’s zero-harvest for a year or two or more. Maybe the lake needs to be stocked with walleye fry or fingerlings. Maybe Gov. Mark Dayton needs to open direct talks with the Chippewa.
But what we’ve got isn’t working.
By any definition, it’s failure.