The Mille Lacs Fishery Advisory Committee met Monday, May 7, at Izatys Resort to hear from Minnesota DNR staff ahead of the open water fishing opener. Representatives from the DNR explained to the committee the agency's rationale for moving forward with a safe harvest limit of 150,000 pounds of walleye on Mille Lacs Lake this year, despite a lack of agreement with the Ojibwe bands, which argued for a smaller harvest limit of 120,000 pounds.
The state is claiming an allocation of 82,450 pounds, which it will manage through a catch-and-release-only season — a move the DNR says will reduce the odds to 11 percent that the state will reach its maximum allocation by Labor Day.
The meeting included conversation about the regulations, complaints about the advisory process, discussion about how to improve relations with the tribes, and speculation about the long-term prospects for the fishery and the angling economy.
Advisory Committee members complained that the DNR went ahead and announced a catch-and-release-only season for walleyes in 2018 without sufficient input from the group. DNR personnel responded that there was no possibility of a harvest, since hooking mortality (the death of walleyes after they are caught and released) will bring state an- glers close to their allocation.
Aitkin County Commissioner Laurie Westerlund asked how the group could improve its relationship with the tribes. Jamie Edwards, the Band’s Special Advisor on Intergovernmental Affairs, stepped down from the committee in October 2016, saying, "MLFAC has devolved into an anti-science, anti-treaty rights forum subsidized by state resources.”
One member said having a tribal representative on the committee was a failed experiment that shouldn’t be repeated. Another accused Jamie of slander.
The state and the Bands currently split the first 64,000 pounds of walleye, with 70 percent going to the state, and 30 percent to the Bands. Beyond 64,000 pounds the allocation is split evenly.
Regarding long-term prospects under this agreement, Johnson’s Portside owner Steve Johnson said that even if the fishery was capable of 400,000 pound harvests in the future, the best-case scenario would give state anglers around 200,000 pounds. His conclusion: anglers may never be able to keep fish again.
The committee also heard about a tagging study that will give the DNR additional walleye population estimates.
MLFAC was created in 2015 after the state ex- ceeded its allocation of walleyes, forcing a mid-season shutdown. The committee replaced a fishery input group that had been in place since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed 1837 Treaty rights in 1999.
MLFAC is composed of resort owners, guides, and other business owners, as well as government representatives. The committee initially included a biologist, Paul Venturelli. Venturelli left the group in May 2016, saying, "I am stepping down because my input as a scientist is not needed on this committee. The DNR is effective at communicating the science, but the majority of the committee is steadfast in the belief that the science is inherently flawed.”