State and tribal fisheries managers will cut the walleye harvest on Red Lake next year by 20% to adjust to a reduction in spawners and to maintain a good quantity of the lake's signature fish.
The change follows a year in which fishing regulations were loosened to check a walleye surplus. Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji, said spring/summer regulations will be determined in April after the winter catch is analyzed.
"When the fish are there, we loosen the harvest," Drewes said. "We had a surplus in spawner stock abundance. … We've fallen back to 'optimal.' "
The DNR and Red Lake Nation agreed to smaller harvest targets on Wednesday, the same day that the state and band renewed the official memorandums of understanding to co-manage Red Lake's walleyes. The Chippewa band controls 85% of Minnesota's largest inland lake. The remainder — 48,000 acres of Upper Red Lake — is state territory.
"Obviously, the fishery is in really good shape,'' DNR Fisheries Chief Brad Parsons said.
He was on hand Wednesday at Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake, along with DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen and Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr., to fortify what began 20 years ago as the Red Lake Walleye Recovery Project.
In the mid-1990s, Red Lake's famous walleye fishery collapsed from overharvest. Then-DNR Commissioner Rod Sando and then-Red Lake Chairman Bobby Whitefeather forged a partnership, and a joint technical committee was formed. The committee replenished the waters with a seven-year harvest moratorium, coupled with a walleye stocking program. Today, walleye reproduction is natural.
Drewes said the first four memorandums of agreement between the parties were each five years long. The new agreement is written to last 10 years — recognition that the short-term recovery phase is over.
"We've reached a condition of stability," Drewes said.
Under regulations that began Dec. 1, state-licensed anglers this winter will once again be allowed to keep four walleyes, with only one fish longer than 17 inches. But the DNR's overall walleye harvest goal through next summer has been lowered from 300,000 pounds to 240,000 pounds. Gone will be the spring/summer regulation that allowed a four-walleye bag with one over 20 inches. Next season's downsized guidelines will depend on the volume of walleyes caught through the ice.
Overall, the DNR will frame regulations to fit a new annual harvest limit of 5 pounds of walleye per acre of water. That's down from last year's targeted rate of 6.25 pounds per acre. Drewes said Red Lake Nation will ratchet down its commercial harvest of walleyes at a similar rate per acre, capturing about 1 million pounds of walleyes in total. The band operates one of the largest freshwater commercial fisheries in the United States, established in 1917.