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will mille lacs regs ever be set?

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Posted on Sun, Jan. 11, 2004

OUTDOORS NOTEBOOK: Mille Lacs rule changes weighed
Pioneer Press

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials are strongly considering revamping Lake Mille Lacs walleye regulations after last year's record-low harvest.

The angler take was only 66,500 pounds, while the Chippewa harvest was 70,536 pounds.

"When you combine the band and the angler kill, it's the lowest walleye harvest on record,'' said Jack Wingate, DNR fisheries manager.

Anglers were eligible to take 442,000 pounds.

The low angler harvest was the result of an abundant population of perch, a key food for walleye, which kept catch rates low. Harvest restrictions also played a role. Rules required anglers to throw back walleyes from 17 to 28 inches long, with one trophy over 28 inches allowed. The bag limit was four fish.

Although the DNR pushed to keep future regulations stable, the low angler harvest has DNR managers rethinking the strategy. They plan to meet with representatives of eight Chippewa bands Jan. 21-22 to talk about the fishery and convene with a citizens advisory group in early February to talk about new rules, which will be announced shortly after the latter meeting.

Wingate said there's a large population of walleyes over 20 inches in Mille Lacs, but there are relatively few between 14 and 20 inches. Given the abundance of large walleyes, the new regulation likely will target more walleyes that are 20 inches or larger, he said.

Among the possible options, according to Wingate:

• The DNR could narrow the 17- to 28-inch protective slot limit, meaning fewer large fish would be protected. The 17-inch minimum would be raised or the 28-inch maximum lowered, Wingate said.

• The season could start with a narrow harvest slot limit. The rule would change to a narrow protective slot limit after the night fishing ban expires in June.

"We're talking about some harvest of large fish, but we don't want to go whole hog because we have to keep our spawning biomass up,'' Wingate said, referring to the DNR's preference to keep intact stocks of large female fish.

Wingate said there's a dearth of walleye under 20 inches for three reasons: There were poor classes in 2000 and 2001, the fish that survived were cannibalized by other walleyes, and anglers have targeted that segment of fish in recent years. Wingate said managers also want to protect the large 2002 class, which is currently 7 to 10 inches long and will be catchable size next fall.

There were other notable figures from the past Mille Lacs walleye season:

• It was the first time the band's walleye harvest exceeded angler harvest since co-management of the lake began in the 1990s.

• Of the anglers' walleye kill, 35,000 pounds were taken home, while close to 32,000 pounds were the result of hooking mortality after the fish were released.

• Anglers released about 500,000 pounds of walleyes.

• The 2003 angler harvest was 307,000 pounds less than the 2002 harvest. The 2002 season was a record, with 3.5 million pounds of walleyes boated.

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