A busy fishing opener and strong catches by anglers has prompted the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to change regulations for walleye fishing on one of the state's biggest inland lakes.
The DNR announced Thursday that, effective June 5, only walleyes between 16 inches and 18 inches may be harvested and no trophy fish will be allowed on Lake Mille Lacs.
The previous regulation allowed harvest of walleyes between 16 inches and 20 inches and one walleye over 28 inches.
The previous regulation had been recommended by the Mille Lacs Fisheries Input Group, with the understanding that if it was too liberal it would be changed to keep the walleye harvest under the state's allocation of 310,000 pounds for the 2001 season.
The input group includes resort owners, fishing guides, bait dealers, local and state government officials, tournament representatives and representatives of angling groups.
On the fishing opener weekend, anglers harvested 52,000 pounds of walleye, the highest harvest in eight years, the DNR said. The high harvest continued through Memorial Day weekend to bring the total harvest to 167,000 pounds as of Monday.
The harvest was significantly more than the 135,000-pound threshold that triggers a harvest slot change.
"Fishing has been the best it has been since 1992 and 1993," said Rick Bruesewitz, DNR treaty biologist. "May fishing is a good indicator of fishing success for the rest of the season. If we don't implement this tighter restriction now, we would be looking at a harvest that could be more than 450,000 pounds by the end of October."
A harvest of 450,000 pounds could result in a significant penalty reduction of the walleye quota for Minnesota anglers next year, the DNR said. The state quote also will be reduced next year due to the tribal quota increasing by 15,000 pounds next year under a plan approved by the federal courts.
"We've harvested over half of this year's total allocation in one month," Bruesewitz said. "This tighter restriction should help distribute the remaining harvest over the rest of the year and help angler harvest stay within the established quota."
The tribes have taken about 45,000 pounds of walleye so far and have not been actively fishing since the end of spawning season just before the walleye opener. The tribal quota is 85,000 pounds. The tribes have until the end of next March to harvest their allocation.
Federal courts have ruled since 1994 that fish and game in the 1837 treaty ceded territory must be shared with eight Chippewa Indian bands. The DNR has managed the annual walleye harvest at Lake Mille Lacs so it does not exceed 24 percent of the total catchable population as provided by the court order.
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