Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr projected the DNR will make its call whether to have a winter ice fishing season for walleye on Lake Mille Lacs later this month
The DNR, which has faced criticism over its relationship with the public in the wake of its closure of walleye season closure on Mille Lacs this summer, also announced the appointment of a 17-member Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee on Tuesday.
The new public body improves upon the prior advisory board it replaces by including a broader range of demographics represented, Landwehr said, including anglers who commute to fish at Mille Lacs rather than just local anglers, and local government officials.
“What we’re trying to do here is recognize that a substantial constituent to the fisheries condition on the lake are those fishermen that come in from outside the area,” he said. “We’ve got people coming from certainly Brainerd, certainly the (Twin) Cities, maybe Grand Rapids, and Moorhead as well – all coming to Mille Lacs because it’s a great lake.”
Landwehr said 130 people applied for the committee.
The group is intended to help improve relations between the DNR and the members of the public concerned about the fish population in Mille Lacs, Landwehr said. The committee can issue recommendations on how best to fix the walleye decline, but it cannot directly alter DNR policy, he said.
“Obviously we’re going to put a lot of stock in what they recommend, but it it is still advisory,” he said.
The DNR’s goal is to have two of the new Advisory Committee members observe the meetings between biologists from the DNR and from nearby American Indian bands who fish on the lake. The meetings of the “Technical Committee” help determine a scientific consensus on what fishing levels are safe for the overall health of Mille Lacs fish population. However, the DNR has faced resistance from the tribes, Landwehr said.
“We’ve been in consultation with the bands on that,” he said. “So far, they are not receptive to that idea, so we continue to work with them to see if we can’t get their concurrence.”
The technical group will meet Oct. 15-16. After they’ve arrived at a number for a “safe allowable harvest”, the DNR will take those numbers to the Advisory Committee and ask for their advice on how to split the harvest between ice fishing and open water seasons, Landwehr said.
This is the first time the DNR has aimed for safe allowable harvest numbers in October, Landwehr said. The state typically releases them in July. It closed the walleye fishing season earlier than expected in August after studies showed the population had fallen drastically.
Landwehr also announced the assignment of a DNR “point person” on Mille Lacs walleye: Roger Hugill, a recently retired fisheries biologist.
“He’s going to be, really, the face of the department and the (DNR) Fisheries people,” Landwehr said. The DNR aims to buy or build space for a new facility on the lake, he said, but in the interim Hugill is looking to lease space near Mille Lacs.
The first meeting of the advisory committee will be 6 p.m. Thursday at McQuoid’s Inn resort in Isle. The committee’s meetings will be open to the public and press, Landwehr said.
The complete list of new members as released by the DNR:
Mark Utne, Isle; Cheryl Larson, Wahkon; Tony Roach, Willow River; Tom Neustrom, Grand Rapids; Steven Besser, Litchfield; and Peter Perovich, Ramsey.
Tina Chapman, Chapman’s Mille Lacs Resort & Guide Service, local liaison to Explore Minnesota Tourism, Isle; Eddy Lyback, Lyback’s Ice Fishing and Lyback’s Marine, Wahkon; Steve Kulifaj, The Red Door Resort, Aitkin; Steven Johnson, Johnson’s Portside, East Township; William Eno, Twin Pines Resort and launch service, Garrison; and Dean Hanson, Agate Bay Resort and launch service, Isle.
Mille Lacs County Commissioner David Oslin, Aitkin County Commissioner Laurie Westerlund, and Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Koering.
Mille Lacs Band Representative
Jamie Edwards, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Dr. Paul Venturelli, Fisheries Program, University of Minnesota.