MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More fishing, and warmer July temperatures, have caused the state to exceed its walleye harvest limits on Mille Lacs Lake.
But instead of triggering an immediate closure on the troubled lake, the state says fishing will continue.
That is because this year’s catch-and-release restrictions appear to be working, protecting the young walleye for future spawning.
It is a critical balancing act for the state, and can explain why walleye fishing will not be closed.
Using angler surveys, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources can measure Mille Lacs Lake’s fishing success.
They estimate that 38,000 pounds of walleye were caught and released so far this season, and later died from hooking mortality. And that exceeds the state’s share of the harvest by 10,000 pounds.
But after weighing the biological, social and economic needs, fishing will remain open.
“What we might save by taking more restrictive action on the fishery for the rest of the season will possibly be a very small benefit, relative to the potential economic implications of restricting the fishery even more,” said Don Pereira, the DNR’s fisheries chief.
Test netting shows young walleye are not surviving to adults. So to re-populate the fishery, stricter regulations aim to protect the future walleye spawners.
Even with catch-and-release fishing, anglers are still coming.
“The thing that’s different from last year to this year is that fishing pressure didn’t drop as much the second half of July,” Pereira said.
Tighter restrictions might help the fish, but they are also hurting the launch business.
“I’m still probably 50-percent down from last year, which was 50-percent down from the year before,” said Linda Eno, of Twin Pines Resort.
Despite that, resorters like Twin Pines say customers are having great fishing and are pleased the governor and DNR will not close the season early.
“It doesn’t look like the fishing is going to slow down,” Eno said. “Every week you think, ‘Oh, one more week it’s going to quieter,’ but it has just been consistently fantastic.”
One thing the DNR points out is that the class of young walleye from 2013 appears to be maintaining a healthy population.
That has been the problem all along — the fact these young fish are not surviving to a catchable size.
Tribal anglers also have a stake in the lake’s future. They have taken about 3,000-pound less than they are allowed, and changed from netting to spearing to help protect the younger fish.
If those juvenile fish can survive to spawning size in 2018, and there is good perch for them to feed on, Mille Lacs Lake could see a good turnaround.