State and bands agree on safe harvest level
Anglers on Lake Mille Lacs will have an opportunity to keep some walleye during the open-water fishing season this year. This follows several seasons of catch-and-release fishing on the lake.
Last year, state anglers stayed well under the lake’s safe-harvest allocation for walleyes. With an improving walleye population, the Department of Natural Resources will allow some walleye harvest when the season opens Saturday, May 11.
The DNR will announce the Mille Lacs walleye regulations for the upcoming season in mid-March.
"We’re happy to announce that, with some very conservative fishing regulations over the past three years, walleye are now at a level where we can cautiously allow anglers to start keeping some fish during the open-water season," said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen.
"This is good news for anglers, Mille Lacs area businesses and the resource," Strommen added. "I want to thank the bands for their ongoing collaboration and the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee for its continued input and discussions with the DNR in managing the walleye fishery on Mille Lacs."
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 DNR is considering allowing the walleye harvest during the cool-water periods in the spring and fall. The agency is exploring a variety of regulation options, and will be discussing the alternatives with the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee, a group of local businesses, fishing experts and community leaders that help advise the agency on Mille Lacs fishing regulations and other issues.
The state and the bands recently agreed on a safe harvest level of 150,000 pounds of walleye, which provides a state allocation of 87,800 pounds. Under the catch-and-release only regulation last year, walleye angler kill totaled just over 47,000 pounds.
"While the walleye population is on a positive trajectory, we need to strike a careful balance between expanding harvest opportunities and conserving the fishery for future angling opportunities," said Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries chief.
The walleye safe harvest level for Lake Mille Lacs is determined annually. It is based on population status and predictions of how harvest will affect the walleye population in the future. State anglers share the safe harvest level with eight bands of Chippewa that have fishing rights under an 1837 treaty. By agreement, the bands and the state are required to monitor harvest according to their respective allocations.
There continues to be good news about the walleye population. The improving Mille Lacs walleye population is bolstered by a 2013 year class of fish that has been protected by regulations and is just starting to produce young fish that appear to be surviving.
The DNR encourages all Minnesotans to visit Lake Mille Lacs to fish the other abundant species that the lake has to offer. The lake is widely recognized as one of the nation’s top smallmouth bass and muskellunge fisheries. In 2017, Mille Lacs was named the number one bass fishing lake in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine. The lake hosted the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship in 2016 and 2017.
More information about Lake Mille Lacs can be found on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/millelacslake.