I know we aren’t even to March yet but is still hard not to mention updates about the Mille Lacs Lake situation when they start to occur.
It is still amazing to me that the (once) world class walleye fishery is in the situation it is now. Not good! As you remember, the walleye season was closed at the beginning of August last summer after meeting a very modest angling harvest quota. The ice season has been open for business for walleye, but has a one-fish harvest limit of a walleye between 18 and 20 inches.
With the summer shutdown, late ice start, low harvest rate and this upcoming summer seasons projected/proposed limited harvest limit, we can only hope this great body of water heals.
This year’s harvest quota is expected to be limited to 40,000 pounds of walleye. The netting quota for the Native American tribes is going to be limited to 11,400 pounds.
Last year, and this year, they (the tribes) have agreed to this very limited harvest compared to past years as their concession to help the Mille Lacs walleye population come back to a lake balance.
There was talk of just doing a ceremonial netting. If that occurs, the harvest rate stays at the 40,000 pounds. If they take their 11,400 pounds, this leaves 28,600 pounds for angling harvest. The tribes will still get their allotted harvest, but they will just come off lakes other than Mille Lacs.
There are a number of proposals that will need to be decided on, and all of them include the one walleye 18-20 inches as a limit, and all of them include various months of walleye season closures.
Regardless of what plan of the eight proposed, the lake will continue to have reduced numbers of anglers due to the limited harvest and slot. The continued reduced pressure will help the lake recover, but another summer season like last year will continue to devastate the resort related industry surrounding the lake. All the businesses around the lake suffer as a result of what has happened to the lake, except maybe the casino.
The costs for the decline of the lake are huge when you figure in all of the factors in play. The state dollars going to another office in the region, additional employees, committee meetings, research time, the proposed additional stocking are all expenses that will be a part of the lake recovery.
I am mad and frustrated it got to this point. I do have hope. I was mad and frustrated with what happened to Red Lake some years ago, and again when we watched Leech decline and bottom out. The efforts and interventions for both those fisheries have healed those lakes and they are great and getting better.
I expect in a couple years, we will be talking about the success of the combined efforts of all the stakeholders involved in Mille Lacs coming together with a successful intervention plan that worked. With the lessons of these major fisheries as test cases, I also expect that agencies and anglers will take action earlier, and not allow other fisheries to get into crisis before doing something.
Like everything in life, prevention is best, early intervention is the next best and having to deal our way out of crisis is far more costly financially and emotionally. When things are decided, I will keep you posted.