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Mille Lacs: Winter harvest cap set

State and tribal biologists have reached agreement on how many pounds of walleye could be harvested by Mille Lacs Lake anglers over the winter season, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The agreement paves the way for a d...

DNR fisheries specialist Alisha Hallam weighs a northern pike at the Aitkin fisheries office during the September Mille Lacs fish assessment.Submitted Photo
DNR fisheries specialist Alisha Hallam weighs a northern pike at the Aitkin fisheries office during the September Mille Lacs fish assessment. Submitted Photo

State and tribal biologists have reached agreement on how many pounds of walleye could be harvested by Mille Lacs Lake anglers over the winter season, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The agreement paves the way for a decision later this month on the state's ice fishing regulations.

At a meeting Oct. 15, DNR and tribal biologists agreed to set the winter harvest cap for state anglers at 5,000 pounds or less. The total walleye harvest last winter was 3,100 pounds. The DNR and the Chippewa bands were able to reach this decision because September fish assessment data show that pounds of spawning-age walleye and numbers of walleye from the 2013 year class were above established benchmarks.

"This decision allows anglers and businesses to look forward to some harvest opportunity during the upcoming winter angling season that begins Dec. 1," said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief. "We'll announce a final decision about the details of the ice fishing season by the last week of October, following an Oct. 21 meeting with the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee."

In preparation for that meeting, DNR biologists will evaluate the potential effects of various fishing regulation alternatives for discussion with the committee. Results of those analyses and input from the advisory committee will then be considered in making the final decision for this winter.

"We will monitor creel data every two weeks during the winter and will assess in January whether we need to adjust the state's harvest level for the rest of the winter to stay under 5,000 pounds," Pereira said. "At the January State and Tribal Fisheries Technical Committee meeting we will set the safe harvest level for the year, which will inform the open water fishing regulation to be set in late winter."

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Mille Lacs Lake background

Since 2008, not enough young walleye have been surviving to maturity and replenishing the Mille Lacs Lake population. As a result, Mille Lacs walleye numbers are currently at a 30-year low. In response, the state instituted more restrictive walleye regulations earlier this year in order to protect young walleyes so they could grow older.

The Mille Lacs 2015 walleye safe harvest level was deliberately reduced from 60,000 to 40,000 pounds so that more fish could potentially survive and spawn to improve the walleye population. Under the 2015 quota, state anglers could harvest up to 28,600 pounds of walleye, and the eight Chippewa bands with 1837 Treaty harvest rights could harvest up to 11,400 pounds of walleye.

On Aug. 3, the DNR closed the lake to walleye fishing after state anglers exceeded the quota of 28,600 pounds. Following the closure, the DNR announced that it had begun implementing several concrete steps aimed at improving the Mille Lacs Lake walleye population, while building a closer working relationship with the Mille Lacs community. Technical work is underway to determine if experimental fry stocking is feasible.

"Even after encouraging fall fisheries assessment data, there is still a need to protect spawning-sized walleye, as well as the young fish that we need to survive into adulthood, to allow the walleye population to continue to improve," Pereira said.

For more about how the DNR has implemented steps aimed at improving the Mille Lacs Lake walleye population, and improving its working relationship with the community, can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake under the "Building A Future" tab.

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