An open letter to Wisconsin netters

I was always taught that it never hurts to ask. So I’m asking: Please, if it’s not too much trouble, can you skip your annual gillnetting trip to Mille Lacs this year?

I’d appreciate it, and so would my neighbors. Hey, we’ll owe you one.
Don’t get me wrong; I know you have a right to net walleyes in Mille Lacs. That’s why I’m asking. Not demanding. Not threatening. Just asking.
I mean, think about it. You’ll have to load up the RV, make sure the boat’s working, and pack up the wife and kids just to spend long hours on a windblown lake in April. After that, it’s more hours picking those doggone fins and teeth out of the webbing. Is it really worth the trouble?
I know what you’re thinking: “Would you ask Minnesota anglers not to fish in Wisconsin, or Ontario?”
Well, I might, but that’s beside the point. Comparing angling to netting is apples and oranges.
A Minnesota angler can go to Wisconsin and come back with one small limit of fish. An Ojibwe netter, on the other hand, can come here and leave with hundreds of fish. A handful of netters can take a tenth or more of the annual harvest for the whole lake in a few days.
That’s too big of a dent in the local fishery and the local economy. Like I said, I recognize your right to do it, but just because you have the right doesn’t mean you have to exercise it.
A lot of Mille Lacs Band members agree with me, though they won’t tell you that to your face. It’s not their style, and band members tend to stick together on these issues.
The Mille Lacs Band took most of the risk, did most of the work, paid most of the money, and now inherits most of the consequences of the 1837 Treaty case.
I know, some pundits say you guys would’ve wanted in on any settlement the Mille Lacs Band signed with the state, but I don’t believe it. I think you would’ve been happy for your fellow Ojibwe in Minnesota and would’ve stuck to your home waters — just like the Mille Lacs netters stick mainly to theirs.
There’s been an interesting development around the lake in recent years. In the early days of the tribal harvest, netting in general drove anglers nuts, but these days most of them have focused their ire not on netting, but on you guys.
You’ll often hear in these parts, “I don’t mind Mille Lacs Band members netting. It’s those Wisconsin bands that bother me.”
They have a point. It’s hard to believe that this is what your ancestors envisioned when they signed those treaties: driving gas-guzzling RVs hundreds of miles to net a few thousand pounds of fish.
And to be honest, you haven’t always been the best guests. When nets freeze and blow away or guts get dumped on private land, it’s not the Mille Lacs Band creating the controversy, yet they reap the flak after you’re safely across the border.
If you weren’t here, netting would become an accepted and mostly invisible part of the fabric of the community and the change of the seasons.
There will always be naysayers, but if you guys weren’t around, they’d be a lot quieter.
As the editor of a smalltown newspaper, I don’t have much to offer, but I’ll give what I can: If you stay home this year, I won’t publish another article by anyone named Fellegy in 2012. And the offer stands for 2013.Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.


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