Well, it was bound to end sooner or later.
Because of better-than-expected walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, the DNR will implement a new regulation to limit harvest on July 9. The new regulation is aimed at keeping the total walleye kill within the allowable safe harvest level.
Effective at 12:01 a.m. on July 9, anglers can keep walleyes of at least 14 inches in length and no longer than 16 inches, plus one over 28 inches. The four-fish bag limit remains.
The current regulation, which ends Sunday at midnight, allows anglers to keep four fish up to 20 inches in length, with one over 28 inches.
"The hot bite has been great," said DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten, "but unprecedented fishing pressure, higher than anticipated catch rates and higher-than-normal hooking mortality compel us to take this action."
Mille Lacs' management differs from other lakes in Minnesota. A safe harvest level is set at meetings between the DNR and Chippewa Indian bands. Fisheries biologists have estimated that 549,000 pounds of walleyes can safely be harvested from the lake this year. The eight bands set their harvest at 100,000 pounds, leaving 449,000 pounds for non-band anglers.
As of June 30, the non-band kill was estimated at 384,000 pounds. That number is based on daytime creel surveys. It includes the number of fish anglers keep plus an estimate of fish that die after being released. Night harvest, which started June 11, and winter and summer tournament mortality are estimated separately. These add an estimated 50,000 pounds to that total, placing the total kill at about 434,000 pounds, or within 15,000 pounds of the non-band anglers 449,000-pound allocation.
Fishing pressure in the last half of June was at 372,000 angler-hours, the highest-ever recorded for that period, according to the DNR. Holsten said many different regulation options were considered before the 14- to 16-inch harvest slot was settled on.
"Our options were limited," Holsten said. "We're only 15,000 pounds below our allocation and 114,000 pounds below an agreed upon maximum allowable kill that would close walleye fishing. As such, we need to stretch the harvest out over the next five months of open water fishing or risk closing the fishery."
Mille Lacs walleye fishing has never been closed because of high harvest. But the DNR made a similar mid-season regulation change in 2001 to avoid a closure.
VINCE MEYER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5862.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.