ISLE — Members of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee channeled public resentment toward tribal fish harvest’s alleged effect on the troubled Mille Lacs Lake walleye population.
The issue came up during the committee’s meeting at Appledoorn’s Sunset Bay Resort in Isle on Thursday, the first since fishing opener.
Due to a decline in walleye population, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources initially set the Mille Lacs walleye fishing season this year as catch and release only and artificial bait only, but later relented and allowed live bait.
Tribes vs. state anglers
Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Koering brought up a resentment he had heard from customers of his liquor store toward people from American Indian tribal bands netting on Mille Lacs.
“There is a tremendous amount of anger toward the tribes netting fish,” Koering said.
Regional Treaty Coordinator Tom Jones reiterated the DNR’s consistent position that fishing by band members was not the root of the decline in walleye population on Mille Lacs.
“The problem is not caused by band netting or band spearing,” Jones said.
DNR Central Region Fisheries Director Brad Parsons advised the committee if their customers asked about tribal fishing, to tell them to contact the DNR.
Steve Johnson of Johnson’s Portside and Dean Hanson, Agate Bay Resort and launch service agreed that a specific study analyzing tribal netting’s effect was called for, saying it needed to be proven to the citizens of Minnesota that tribal activities didn’t hurt the walleye population.
However, Jones and DNR large lake specialist Eric Jensen were skeptical.
If the study didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, they would simply demand more study, Jones said.
“So you want us to prove a negative?” Jensen said. “It’s like saying, prove to me there’s not a God.”
Steve Kulifaj of The Red Door Resort said the public complained of a double standard where non-Indian citizens were told by the state not to disturb spawning beds under any circumstances but American Indian bands were allowed to.
He compared the situation to friction in Canada between indigenous people and citizens of Thunder Bay that resulted in violence, and said the Mille Lacs situation was near that level of tension: a “civil uprising” with people’s lives at risk.
“We’re on the brink of that,” he said.
Parsons said the DNR could look into the idea of a study.
The committee repeated its desire for the DNR to try and renegotiate with tribal bands the protocols set in the 1990s governing harvest limits.
Hanson said that the protocol system didn’t take social and economic impact into account when it set harvest limits.
“It can’t just be biology,” he said.
He said the advisory committee wasn’t just about resort owners concerned with their own bottom line—it’s about the individual people the government policy effects.
The next advisory committee meeting, which will cover the protocols, is scheduled for June 6 at McQuoid’s Resort beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Creel survey, hooking mortality study in the works
There are two DNR studies underway on Mille Lacs walleye: a creel survey, which polls anglers on what they catch, and a hooking mortality study, which studies which circumstances cause walleye to die accidentally during fishing.
Parsons said updates on the creel survey will be posted on the DNR’s website periodically, although there won’t be a specific announcement every time, as the numbers will likely be under intense media scrutiny.
Gov. Mark Dayton and DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr will be following the results, he said.
A schedule of when the creel results will be posted was provided to the committee members and the media at the meeting Thursday. The first results will be released online June 10, and will continue twice a month until October.
Parsons announced Dr. Paul Venturelli of the University of Minnesota had resigned from the committee, because of time constraints. The group’s charter specifies that an academic representative should be part of the committee, so the DNR will likely search for a replacement.