Band members can look forward to a productive netting and spearing season on Mille Lacs this spring, after the state and tribes agreed on allocations for state anglers and tribal harvesters.
There are also good signs that the walleye population is recovering after it reached its lowest levels ever recorded from 2013 to 2015.
Mille Lacs Band DNR Commissioner Bradley Harrington said, "The upward trend of the walleye population reflects the conservation efforts of both the state of Minnesota and the Ojibwe tribes with harvest rights in Mille Lacs Lake.
"While it is critical that combined harvest limits should continue to allow for the recovery of walleye, we join the state in cautious optimism about the trend in increasing spawning biomass. Within our teachings it is stated that accepting the gifts from the lake while respecting the manidoo by avoiding taking too much is the best way to honor our gifts from the creator."
The state of Minnesota and the Ojibwe bands came to a scientifically based consensus on harvestable surplus of ogaa (walleye), ginoozhe (northern pike), and asaawe (yellow perch) in Lake Mille Lacs, and the parties agree that improvements in the spawning stock are now at a point that can allow for a limited open water harvest of ogaa for state anglers.
The state and the bands agreed on a safe harvest level of 150,000 pounds of ogaa for 2019, which provides a tribal allocation of 62,200 and a state allocation of 87,800 pounds. The tribal allocation is divided among eight bands, with Mille Lacs receiving 30 percent (18,660 pounds initially) and the remaining ogaa allocation divided among harvesters from the Fond du Lac Band and six Wisconsin bands: Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, Lac du Flambeau, Mole Lake, Red Cliff, and St. Croix.
The bands and state have also agreed on target population goals and overage plans.
Although the state and bands disagreed on allocations in 2018, state anglers stayed under the tribes’ recommended safe-harvest allocation for ogaa in 2018, after exceeding the quota in 2016 and 2017.
Under the catch-and-release only regulation last year, walleye angler kill totaled just over 47,000 pounds, based on scientific estimates of hooking mortality — the amount of fish that die after they are caught and released.
With an improving walleye population, the Minnesota DNR will allow a limited ogaa harvest when the state angling season opens Saturday, May 11. The limited ogaa harvest will include a restrictive slot and potential mid-season closure or shift to catch and release.
Regulation options will be discussed with the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee, a group of local businesses, fishing experts, and community leaders who help advise the agency on Mille Lacs fishing regulations and other issues.
On the rebound?
The population of ogaawag (walleyes) in the lake is primarily estimated using data from Minnesota DNR fall gill net surveys. That assessment indicated that the ogaa population was at a historic low point from 2013 to 2015, leading the bands to cancel netting for a year and the state to allow catch-and-release only.
The bands and state also came up with a target goal in 2017 of 20 pounds of mature walleye per net lift — a goal that was surpassed in last fall's assessment.
The adult ogaa biomass is mostly made up of the 2013 year class, the only recent class to make it to adulthood in large numbers. Management efforts have attempted to protect those fish to maintain or increase spawning stock, and those fish are now able to spawn.
Scientists have also concluded that one of the causes of the population decline is the failure of young ogaawag to make it to adulthood, but there are signs that this is also changing for the better.
For information about tribal fishing licenses, call the Mille Lacs Band DNR at 320-532-7896.