ISLE, Minn. (KMSP) - The latest walleye harvest estimate on Mille Lacs Lake indicates anglers have surpassed the state’s 2016 walleye quota, but the Minnesota DNR says catch-and-release walleye season will remain open.
Dayton: Closing walleye season would devastate Mille Lacs
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton requested the DNR keep the walleye fishing season open, saying an early end to walleye season would “devastate” businesses and communities around Mille Lacs Lake.
“I have directed the DNR not to close the walleye fishing season on Lake Mille Lacs, and I have contacted tribal leaders to ask for their understanding and forbearance. The DNR has already imposed a very stringent, catch-and-release only, restriction on this season,” the governor said in a statement. “Closing the walleye fishing season on Mille Lacs would devastate area businesses and communities. The state’s fisheries experts have assured me that continuing catch-and-release on Mille Lacs will not negatively impact the health of the walleye fishery. We will continue to do everything possible, working with area business, community, and tribal leaders, to assure the long-term health and sustainable recovery of the Mille Lacs walleye fishery.”
DNR: Catch-and-release is working
DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira said survey data has shown that the catch-and-release-only regulations in place on Mille Lacs this summer are successfully conserving the lake’s future spawning population of walleye.
“Based on the data we’ve seen so far this year, keeping the season open will have minimal additional impact on the walleye population,” Pereira said. “The primary goal of the catch-and-release restriction is protecting young walleye, especially the robust 2013 year class. Current data show that only one percent of the 2013 fish have been impacted by hooking mortality, which is remarkably low.”
At the end of June. The Mille Lacs walleye harvest was estimated at only 6,950 pounds. But warmer weather, more boats on the lake and more luck on the rod and reel led to a walleye boom in July, with the estimated harvest jumping to 37,922 pounds.
Despite the catch-and-release season, hooking mortality (the estimated number of fish that die after being released) is measured to estimate the total harvest.
Tribes haven't hit harvest quota
This year’s walleye harvest allocation was established in January at 40,000 pounds – 28,600 for state-licensed anglers and 11,400 for tribes. This year, the tribes with Mille Lacs Lake treaty fishing rights modified their harvest methods to help conserve the young walleye population, and the tribes have not yet reached their quota.