It’s that time of year again when my thoughts turn to what the regulations will be on Mille Lacs this summer. After last year’s very poor catch rates during the open water season and a slow winter season, not many pounds were racked up. According to Mille Lacs Lake angler harvest survey summary, there were 15,171 pounds of harvest and post mortality (PM) fish during open water season, and that was barely 19% of the allowable harvest for state anglers that was set at 80,300 pounds.
The total allocation last year was 135,000 pounds, 54,700 pounds of which was the tribal portion. This comes after the allocation was reduced from the previous year by 15,000 pounds. From 2018 until 2021 the allocation was 150,000 total pounds and it was like the movie “Groundhog Day,” as it seemed to repeat itself year after year. In 2021, the state anglers were again well under their portion at just over 59% of the allotted 87,800 pounds.
It should be noted there is no banking of the leftover poundage that was not caught, and during the years where anglers came close or went over the allocations, a good percentage of it was the mythical PM fish – these are the fish that supposedly die after release, but there is no actual evidence of this – it’s a computer formula based on angling pressure and water temperatures. Thus the term “mythical.”
It should also be noted that if anglers go over the allocation with a combination of harvest and mythical PM fish, it actually has to be paid back from future allocations – and that makes no sense, and honestly is not fair or right since there is no banking when the state is under. The state reasons that since the fish were not accounted for in the allocation, they should show up in the next year’s fall survey. Historically, that has seemingly not helped increase the next year’s allocation – until now.
The secrecy of the technical meeting with the tribes and the DNR has also been a proverbial barb in anglers’ sides for many years. The DNR goes in with a “science based” number for the allocation and comes out of the meeting with a lower number after pressure from the ultra-conservative tribes.
This year the total allocation is 175,000 pounds, with the state portion being 100,300. This is the largest allocation since 2013 when it was 250,000 pounds with a two fish limit and an 18-20 inch slot. This is good news for anglers. It will be interesting to see what the 2023 open water regulations are, and with the increased allocation they should be as liberal as anglers have seen in many years as far as actual harvest.
The DNR has said there is a number of aspiring year classes in the lake currently, and this was one of the indicators they were looking for along with positive fall netting surveys. And the latest angler survey also found there is an abundance of small fish in the lake as well. So this along with a burgeoning crop of perch is looking like a promising future for the big lake.
In August of 2015, the lake was shut down to walleye fishing for the first time in history, and the allocations and harvest regulations have been dismal ever since. Is it finally time for the Mille Lacs harvest regulations to loosen up a little more, and dig out of the hole they have been in for almost a decade?
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