Steve Johnson

I’m convinced the Minnesota DNR can no longer guarantee that the anglers of Minnesota can fish for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake for a full season–even if the lake’s population of walleye is at record levels.

So you may ask, why can’t we as anglers of the State of Minnesota partake in the long established tradition and economically important activity of fishing for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake?

The answer is the quota.

The quota is the total amount of walleye for harvest determined by the DNR and split between the eight Bands of Ojibwe and state anglers. The quota determined by the co-managers will likely never be large enough to supply the anglers of Minnesota with any more than a one walleye limit in summer or winter.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that future regulations on Mille Lacs Lake will likely consist of three choices: 1) a one fish limit for part of the season, 2) a catch and release season, or 3) a closed season.

This current season, after a one fish limit in the winter and a one fish limit for three weeks in the spring, we hit about 30,000 pounds of the 87,800 pounds (the state’s share) quota, which led us to catch and release for the remainder of the season–we hoped.

But because fishing was so good and the pressure of anglers was up, the DNR calculated that we killed another 60,000 pounds through hooking mortality due to catch and release. Hitting the quota was inevitable, so they closed the lake to walleye fishing beginning in September.

So now even if the co-managers agreed and the data showed that the lake was in great shape, and we could return to an average/normal harvest, we would be looking at about a 400,000 pound quota (the total quota this year is 150,000 pounds).

The Minnesota anglers share of this quota would be about 50 percent or 200,000 pounds. This amount may not be enough to allow a one fish limit all season.

Will the distribution of harvest quota ever improve for the anglers of Minnesota? It certainly should be explored to see how both sides might benefit.

We are entering into our 20th year of the co-management plan, which was a system developed and agreed upon by the two parties (not the courts).

But it seems to be working for one side and not the other.

So maybe it’s time to sit down and look at other options. To negotiate and figure out what the goals are. To look for a compromise that will make things work better for both sides and help our entire Mille Lacs community.

The State of Minnesota has entered into numerous agreements through negotiations with Minnesota Tribes and should actually consider sitting down and talking about how it can work here.

There is no reason all of the area residents, businesses, resorts, and fishing guide services need to have the dark cloud of closure hanging over us. The entire Mille Lacs area, including the Band members, would benefit in keeping the lake open for the entire season.

This conversation can start very easily by Gov. Walz getting involved and looking for a compromise that can work for both sides.

It’s there; we just need to start talking about it.

Guest columnist Steve Johnson is a local businessman and member of the Mille Lacs Fishery Advisory Committee, Eastside Township Board Chair, Mille Lacs County Planning Commission, Mille Lacs Tourism Treasurer.

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