Photo of abandoned Lake Mille Lacs walleye net reignites catch-and-release debate

A photo of Minnesota conservation officers pulling a tribal net with more than 60 walleye from Lake Mille Lacs, a catch-and-release lake, is reigniting an age-old debate over Native American fishing rights across the state of Minnesota.

It's the third consecutive summer of catch-and-release for walleye on the popular lake, a program that's got fisherman and locals angry about its effect on the local economy amid anecdotal evidence that seems to suggest that walleye are abundant. 

"We’re seeing healthy walleye in a variety of sizes ... we had 70 walleye caught on [Monday] night's boat," said Linda Eno, who makes a living off fishing tourism. “Truthfully, they should be able to keep two.”

A concerned angler reported the abandoned net to authorities over the weekend, telling officials that it had sat for at least three days before ultimately being pulled out.

“That’s 100 percent waste,” said Doug Meyenburg of Proper Economic Resource Management. “We need to all get on the level playing field so that everybody who fishes on that lake …should be fishing under the same rules.”

Despite the uproar, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says all the fish were salvageable and will count toward seasonal fishing allotments for the Fond Du Lac Band. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission also says the tribe is "committed to the enforcement of its codes and regulations and will take appropriate enforcement action when the investigation is complete."