An expanded walleye bag limit on Upper Red Lake for 2017 is another positive indicator for the fishery in its forward evolution from a complete walleye collapse in the late 1990s.
Even though ice anglers this winter harvested 109,000 pounds of walleyes under a three-fish bag limit, the DNR announced this week that there's ample room for a spring bag limit of four walleyes.
"The extra fish allowed by the daily bag limit will increase open-water harvest,'' said Gary Barnard, area fisheries supervisor for the DNR.
During last year's opening weeks of the traditional walleye season, state anglers were limited to a daily bag limit of two fish. The DNR later increased it to three fish. Now it's four, including one walleye over 17 inches. Barnard said the rule will help spread the harvest over a wide range of sizes and remove some of the lake's surplus spawning stock.
Red Lake's walleye harvest is managed under a joint state and tribal harvest plan, most recently revised in 2015 by the Red Lakes Fisheries Technical Committee. In 2000 with federal help, the committee advised a long-term shutdown of walleye fishing on Red Lake and Upper Red Lake.
Over a period of more than six years, the lakes were restocked and the fishery was re-established. When the lakes reopened in 2006, harvest quotas were tight.
The DNR is reducing bear hunting opportunities this year in quota areas where hunters last year had a record-high success rate of 50 percent.
"The reduction in bear permit numbers for quota areas is to allow bear population numbers to gradually increase,'' the agency said in a news release. "The 2016 bear season harvest was higher than expected as a result of poor natural food availability for bears last fall.''
The number of bear licenses in the quota area has been reduced from 3,850 last year to 3,350 this year. Those permits are issued under a lottery system with an application deadline of May 5.
The bear-hunting season will run from Sept. 1 through Oct. 15.
Lottery winners will be notified by June 2.
For the no-quota area that includes east-central and far northwestern Minnesota, the DNR said it will sell an unlimited number of bear licenses over the counter.