MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With the Minnesota state fish in crisis, a Native American tribe Friday said it would not net walleye on Lake Mille Lacs next year.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe called the move a huge sacrifice, but a necessary one to help the fish recover. The number of walleye in the lake is at a 30-year low.

That could force the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to end the fishing season there early this year. Resort and business owners in towns like Isle don’t like the sound of that. They gave Minnesota’s governor an earful about the situation Friday.

“This was the jewel of the state,” said John Odle, who bought the Rocky Reef Resort 25 years ago. “That’s what you always heard. Mille Lacs was the jewel of the state of Minnesota.”

But Odle doesn’t necessarily believe that anymore.

This year, because of the walleye quota, business has hit a snag and many of his cabins sit empty.

“I’m down 60 to 70 percent for the summer,” he said “These cabins should be full, the RV sites too, and the bar and grill should be hopping.”

The loyal customers who are left, like Tammy Muck and her family, have taken notice.

“For us it’s a great distance and a great lake to come to,” Muck said. “I’m going to miss it if they shut this down.”

Lake Mille Lacs depends on the walleye for its economic survival, and suspicion turned to cheers when Gov. Dayton announced the temporary ban on netting.

“Our people made our home here hundreds of years ago, and we intend to preserve this lake for generations to come,” the Mille Lacs Band said in a statement.

The statement and the resulting ban still didn’t stop tempers from boiling over at the governor’s town hall in Isle Friday morning. There was a brief shouting match between Gov. Dayton and a local resident over comments on the tribe that the governor called, “a racist rant.”

Area business owners and residents told stories of economic hardship, with one business owner questioning his shop’s ability to pay bills within the next month, let alone the next four years.

The governor promised swift and dramatic action on Mille Lacs. Results, he said, will take longer.

“Are we going to turn this lake around tomorrow? No,” Gov. Dayton said. “But we’re going to make it better. I guarantee we’re going to make it better.”

Odle said it’s only a start and that other changes need to be made before business comes back.

“What would make me more comfortable would be to see it in writing, with the other seven bands signing off on it,” Odle said. “People need to understand this isn’t something we did to ourselves. We didn’t make bad decisions. We made bad decision on deciding who runs this resource and how they went about doing it.

Odle is reacting to Governor Dayton’s idea of possibly calling a special session to approve a $20 million relief package for resort owners and other businesses around the lake.

Odle said he isn’t looking for a handout, he just wants the walleye population on Mille Lacs to return to what it once was.

 

 

Pat Kessler

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