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No more walleye fishing allowed on Mille Lacs Lake

Walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake closed at 10 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3. A recent angler survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found the walleye harvest by anglers has exceeded the state's allotment for 2015 by more ...

Walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake closed at 10 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3.

A recent angler survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found the walleye harvest by anglers has exceeded the state's allotment for 2015 by more than 2,000 pounds. Other fish species, including smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge, remain abundant in the lake. Fishing for these species will remain open with loosened regulations that allow anglers to keep more of what they catch.

"This action is necessary to conserve walleye populations in Mille Lacs Lake for the long term. Despite the walleye closure, Mille Lacs remains a world class fishing destination with some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. "Working together - tribes, local businesses, local government and the state - we will get through this difficult period."

To help alleviate the economic challenges facing local businesses, Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders will meet to discuss emergency relief legislation and a special session to pass it. The governor supports a financial aid package consisting of no-interest loans, property tax abatements and additional funding for tourism advertising.

The following area legislators were appointed to the newly established Legislative Working Group on Mille Lacs Lake: Sens. Carrie Ruud and Tom Saxhaug, and Rep. Dale Lueck. The group was to have its first meeting Tuesday, Aug. 4.

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The governor has directed the DNR to aggressively address the issues related to the decline of the lake's walleye population.

Mille Lacs Lake remains one of America's premier fishing destinations. Special regulations allowing anglers to catch and keep more and larger northern pike and smallmouth bass have been implemented to attract more anglers to the lake. DNR tagging studies also indicate that muskies larger than 50 inches have never been more abundant.

The Mille Lacs Lake walleye population is already poised for a comeback. DNR fishery surveys indicate Mille Lacs contains a large population of walleye hatched in 2013 that now are 10-13 inches long. The survival of these fish suggests that the population will improve if more of these walleye and walleye hatched in later years survive their first year and beyond so they eventually can spawn. Population assessments this fall will provide additional information about the walleye population in the lake.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe's traditional leaders decided Friday, July 31, that the band will temporarily suspend netting through the end of spring 2016.

More on the Aug. 3 walleye closure

The decision meant Monday, Aug. 3, was the last day anglers could fish for walleye on Mille Lacs Lake. The closure will remain in effect through Monday, Nov. 30. Fishing for other species remains open. Landwehr stressed that Mille Lacs remains one of the premier fishing destinations in the country for other species such as smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge.

Despite restrictive regulations implemented earlier this year, unexpected increases in fishing pressure, catch rates and hooking mortality in July pushed the harvest by state-licensed anglers to more than 30,700 pounds. The state's allocation was 28,600 pounds of the 2015 total safe harvest of 40,000 pounds. Tribal harvest was approximately 1,200 pounds below the tribes' 11,400-pound walleye limit.

Warm water greatly increases walleye mortality on fish that must be released because they did not fall within the harvest slot. This "hooking mortality" of walleyes that die after being released counts toward the state's limit.

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Mille Lacs Lake management

DNR and eight Chippewa bands in Minnesota and Wisconsin work cooperatively to set safe walleye harvest levels on Mille Lacs. Each year limits are set that determine how many pounds of fish state anglers and the tribes can harvest. This year's limit for walleye was deliberately reduced to 40,000 pounds to protect the existing spawning stock while providing more time for the abundant young fish in the lake to potentially survive to spawning age to rebuild the lake's walleye population.

Since 2008, not enough young walleye are 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 has instituted more restrictive walleye regulations to protect the spawning stock and allow young walleye better odds of surviving to maturity.

Additional information about Mille Lacs Lake, the season closure and what DNR is doing to rebuild the walleye population is available on DNR's website at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake .

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