Gov. Mark Dayton’s trip to Mille Lacs today to discuss the lake’s walleye collapse and to explore financial and other help for area businesses caught in its downdraft is a positive step.
Some will say it’s too little, too late, and that a Mille Lacs rescue visit was needed years ago, if not by Dayton, then by Gov. Tim Pawlenty or, before him, by Gov. Jesse Ventura.
That said, Dayton’s trip is a positive development, his arrival preceding only by days the expected closure for the season of Mille Lacs walleye fishing.
The 28,600-pound sport-fishing portion of this year’s minimalist 40,000-pound Mille Lacs walleye quota (as recently as 2012, the quota was 500,000 pounds) is expected to be exceeded in coming days, and no option exists other than closure under terms of the lake’s comanagement with eight Chippewa bands.
So for the first time in history, Minnesota’s most productive, storied and busiest fishing lake will be shuttered to walleye angling in midseason.
Now comes Dayton’s sojourn north, and for argument’s sake, let’s say he can figure a way as part of a forthcoming special legislative session to throw a financial lifeline to some businesses around the lake.
How this aid might be distributed, under what terms and to whom is unknown.
The bigger question is: Who would want it? Even zero-interest loans have to be repaid, and for that to occur at Mille Lacs, cash registers must ring.
Worse, as things are going, considering the forthcoming walleye closure and the Department of Natural Resources’ vague, lack-of-urgency recovery plan for Mille Lacs, some cash registers in the area might rust shut before they chime with the frequency of yesteryear.
Therefore, in addition to financial assistance and an expected, intensified state-funded Mille Lacs marketing plan — intended to tout the area’s recreational attributes other than walleye fishing — Dayton should bring with him today huge quantities of the commodity that is in shortest supply in and around Isle, Malmo, Onamia and Garrison:
Not hope only in the fashion of cheap loans or late-night TV barkers bragging up Mille Lacs weekend combos of mini golf, northern pike and voluminous craft beer — “Slackers Specials, $49.95!”
Because it ain’t gonna work.
And Mille Lacs business owners savvy enough to still have their doors open know it.
What they need instead are walleyes, and the quickest way to get them is … to try something other than what the DNR has tried, and is trying.
Maybe that “something” is stocking.
Maybe it’s shutting down the lake to walleye fishing for a few years.
Maybe it’s a joint, public confab with the Chippewa driven by the governor in which grievances and opportunities alike are explored and a new tack agreed upon.
Maybe it all begins with streaming video broadcasts of DNR and Chippewa fisheries meetings that to date have been closed to the public.
Whatever “it” is, change is needed, not only because fisheries management on Mille Lacs isn’t working — the lake’s walleye shutdown proves as much — but because it engenders so much depression among those most affected by it.
Now in his second term, Dayton surely has wondered whether the DNR or any agency its size is capable of the type of change-for-change’s-sake thinking that long-fomenting, seemingly insurmountable problems sometimes require.
Which is all the more reason the governor should swing for the fences at Mille Lacs.
Take stocking: He should tell the DNR to do it.
Yes, the agency’s experts have said again and again the big lake produces lots of young fish, only to see them diminish in number and fail to mature.
Then the DNR bets on the next year, and the next. Maybe someday it will work. It hasn’t yet.
Money and new marketing at Mille Lacs?
One or both might help.
But hope is what’s needed.