RED LAKE -- Red Lake Nation and the state of Minnesota have agreed to another 10 years of partnership regarding the largest body of water completely contained within the state’s borders.
The groups signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday, Dec. 4, renewing an agreement in regard to management of the walleye stock within the lake. The document was signed by representatives from three different groups. They included Red Lake Tribal Chairman Derrell Seki Sr., Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Strommen and Bureau of Indian Affairs Deputy Regional Director Scott Sufficool.
The memorandum of understanding is the same one that was in place previously. However, the agreement that was signed Wednesday will extend that agreement for another 10 years.
Strommen said the occasion is a chance to celebrate the success the partners have had in the recovery of the lake's walleye population. She said it's also an occasion to reaffirm that commitment into the future.
“I think that the recovery of walleye here and the way that state and tribal and federal governments are working together is a really great example of what we can accomplish when we work together in a collaborative way," she said. "It’s a model not only for fisheries management but for all kinds of resource management.”
To mark the occasion, Strommen presented a framed picture of a walleye to Seki.
Upper and Lower Red Lake together form the largest body of water completely enclosed within the state of Minnesota. Although a peninsula jets out between Upper and Lower Red Lake to create an hour-glass appearance, the tribe considers the lakes to be one. Water and fish can flow freely between the two larger sections of the lake.
The majority of Upper Red Lake is contained within Red Lake Nation’s boundaries, but a section of the eastern portion of Upper Red Lake reaches out into the rest of the state. A number of resorts pepper that section of Upper Red Lake.
The walleye population in Upper and Lower Red Lake “collapsed” in the mid-1990s due to overharvesting, according to the DNR. That led both the tribal government and the state to ban fishing for several years.
Henry Drewes, DNR regional fisheries manager in Bemidji, said the tribe put a ban on fishing in 1998. The state followed with its own ban in 1999. Both bans stayed in place until 2006. Today, roughly 1 million pounds a year are harvested from the lakes, according to the DNR.
“Red Lake Band members are pleased that our walleye have come back and our fishing community is revitalized,” Seki said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that Red Lake walleye are managed sustainably in the future.”
Red Lake Nation DNR Director Allen Pemberton said the memorandum of understanding provides a cooperative agreement that allows each government to know what the other is doing. Pemberton said that prior to the agreement between the state and tribal governments, Red Lake Nation would undertake its own management practices and so would the state.
While the walleye population of Red Lake may have bounced back from its collapse in the 1990s, invasive species is becoming another concern for the lake. Pemberton said that the memorandum of understanding provides the framework for the governing bodies to work on that issue, as well.
“We know what they’re doing and they know what we’re doing,” Pemberton said. “There’s always going to be little things that have to be worked out, but they’re not so insurmountable that we can’t work together through them.”