MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers got an earful Wednesday from Mille Lacs County business owners about tough new walleye limits on the state’s most famous lake.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources imposed a one-walleye limit on Mille Lacs two weeks ago to try to revive the fish population — just weeks before Minnesota’s fishing opener.

Resort owners on Mille Lacs told lawmakers negative publicity is already killing business.

“We’re trying to promote that it’s more than a walleye fishery,” Mac’s Twin Bay Resort’s Karen McQuoid said. “We’re trying to paint lipstick on a pig. We’re trying to do the best we can to get the people there to enjoy this resource.”

The DNR is restricting anglers to just one walleye between 19 and 21 inches, and greater than 28 inches after a dramatic drop in walleye production.

It’s in part because of cleaner water that allows the spread of milfoil, and the walleye’s natural predator, northern pike.

“Mille Lacs has undergone over the past 30 years a dramatic number of changes, more than probably any other lake in the state,” DNR Fisheries Chief Don Pereira said.

In addition to a one-walleye limit, the DNR will ban nighttime fishing on Mille Lacs except for muskies.

And if anglers don’t comply, a mid-season limit change to catch-and-release only is a real possibility.

“Our feeling on this is that catch and release is going to be economically dramatic up there, and we just want to avoid it,” Pereira said.

Mille Lacs business leaders and county officials are asking the state for economic development funds to stop what they say is a ripple effect of the walleye regulations.

“It’s the coffee shop down the street, the restaurant maybe a mile away, two miles away from the lake,” Mille Lacs County Commissioner Dave Oslin said. “And that ripple effect is what our concern is.”

The DNR set walleye harvest limits on Mille Lacs at 60,000 pounds last year.

This year, the harvest limit will be 40,000 pounds — the lowest ever.

Pat Kessler

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