Brett’s blog — It all sounds very familiar

With all the media coverage of the historically low population estimate for Mille Lacs walleyes and historically low harvest allocations, I’m curious about the DNR’s meeting with the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group tomorrow night.

Dennis Anderson publicized the meeting in the Strib over the weekend, and PERM (Proper Economic Resource Management – which sprang up to fight treaty rights during the 1837 Treaty case in the 1990s) sent a letter to members, so I’m wondering if there will be a crowd of uninvited guests.

That’s never occurred when I’ve been there, but it wouldn’t bother me since it’s a government agency meeting with citizens in a public place. There have been one or two uninvited guests before, so my guess is that the DNR would try to accommodate them as long as there’s room.

Here’s what PERM had to say (in italics):

It was reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this morning that the MN DNR will present its slot limit for Mille Lacs on Wednesday, February 27th at 6:00 pm to the Mille Lacs advisory group at the Hazelton Township Hall. The hall is located at 24248 U.S. 169 in Aitkin, MN 56431 (218-678-3627)

It is rumored that the DNR could impose a two-walleye limit and a two-inch harvest slot, possibly 18 to 20 inches, 20 to 22 inches, or 22 to 24 inches. Use of barbless hooks for walleyes is possible. Rumors floated to me last night also included the DNR setting a catch and release season only.

The Chippewa Bands will take 80,000 lbs of walleyes by gillnets—mainly all during the spring spawn. That’s about equal to their take last year. Tribal gillnet take also includes all the other incidental fish caught in their nets—like last years State record size Muskie.

Remember the US Supreme Court did not order gill netting during the spawn!

One study has shown about 5% of the eggs laid survive the first year, which equates to about 1,300 fry per lb of walleye. So an18 to 20-inch female equals 2,600 new walleyes in the lake. What percentage of netted fish is female?

It’s time to contact your legislators, Governor, and the DNR to end this madness. Contact info can be found at

And please forward this to at least 5 of your fishing friends

Lets all do our part.

Thanks Doug

If I were a band member (and believe me, they wouldn’t have me), I would think it all sounds familiar: White people telling the Indians to give up something, while the white folks offer nothing in exchange, or something worthless (the beads and trinkets in exchange for the island of Manhattan being one historical example).

The current “deal” is even worse than the 1837 Treaty. At least there, the Indians got to retain their hunting and fishing rights in exchange for several million acres of land.

The “deal” state anglers are proposing is this: Give up your spawning-season gill netting, in exchange for jack.

Common sense would suggest that anglers should offer something in return, yet I’ve never heard of any proposed deal — other than an Isle business owner who suggested that the DNR offer commercially harvested walleyes to the bands in exchange for their treaty rights.

Of course, that’s not the DNR’s job description, and I’m guessing the bands’ rights mean more to them than a few thousand fillets (analogous to beads and trinkets). But if businesses want to give it a try, I’d suggest they bypass the DNR and state bureaucracy and make an offer directly to the tribes.

And I want to be there when they open the letter.

Anyway, check back on Thursday when we’ll have a story on the web, and possibly some unsolicited opinions.

Oh, and if you’re looking for my proposal (for Mille Lacs regs — not for a deal with the Bands), it’s here: One fish per angler per day, any species, any size, and when we hit the quota, targeting of walleyes stops.

Clean and simple, and a model for the future of angling conservation. Mille Lacs led the way on catch-and-release and slot limits. Now it’s time to lead on bag limits.

Times have changed. The world as a whole and the state of Minnesota have changed too much for 100-year-old conservation models. Time to start over.

Nobody needs more than one fish per day. If the family wants to eat, let them go fishing. If they want fish tomorrow, they should go fishing tomorrow. Nobody needs wild-caught fish in their freezer. That’s what grocery stores are for.

Trying to set the record straight

I decided to make life difficult for myself again this week with my column — hoping that a brief summary of Mille Lacs walleye management — introducing a series of articles on the topic — will set the record straight for those sportsmen and area residents who are confused about Mille Lacs walleye management and the issues involved.

Then I read this on Facebook, by a business owner in the area who should know better, since he’s been around throughout the treaty era:

“FACT- The method and timing of the harvest is to be controlled by the managers of the lake (DNR). (BALL DROP)”

Small problem: That’s not a fact. The DNR is not the manager of the lake. The DNR and tribes are co-managers of the lake. The DNR does not have veto power over the tribes’ chosen methods of harvesting their allotment of walleyes — just like they don’t have veto power over the state.

Anglers can cry foul all they want over gill netting during the spawn. The fact is that they have no say in the matter, and if the DNR makes an issue of it, it will end up back in court, and the courts will likely throw it back in their face, telling them the tribes can regulate their own harvest, just like the DNR can regulate the state harvest — unless there is clear evidence that one harvest method or another is detrimental to the fishery.

The evidence doesn’t exist at this point, and it’s unlikely it ever will. As much as anglers want everyone to agree that gill netting during the spawn is the one and only factor in the poor walleye production we’re seeing, it’s more complicated than that, as the DNR has always said and will continue to say — because it’s true.

The ups and downs of walleye production and harvest in Mille Lacs have been with us longer than the modern-era legal gill net harvest.

Anglers’ outrage over gill netting reflects selective cultural prejudice. Selective because there is no outrage over the longstanding tradition of spawning-season gillnetting of other species — like tullibee on Mille Lacs, for example.

Cultural because it reflects a blind acceptance of our own harvest methods and assumption that they are above reproach — even though each new technological advancement (from sonar to leeches to lighted bobbers to treble hooks to GPS to underwater cameras) was criticized by sportsmen before commercial interests won out and each one became perfectly acceptable. But not gill nets! They’re an obvious offense to history, tradition, and God himself!

Many people (Indian and non) are as outraged over the ethics of catch-and-release, fish cameras and sonar, barbed hooks, etc., as anglers are over gill nets — which some Indians will tell you gets the harvest over with and leaves the fish alone for the duration of the year.

Every year, the same uninformed comments are repeated on the Internet, and every year we try again to clarify the facts.

So I’ll plug away over the next few weeks with an admittedly sketchy overview of lake management.

Tentative schedule:

Feb. 27 issue: The 1837 Treaty. What it is, why it happened, what it says.

March 6: Coverage of the DNR meeting with Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group, and a history of the group, and what its role is.

March 13: A review of the 1837 Treaty case.

March 20: Co-management

March 27: population estimates

April 3: regulations

April 10: harvest estimates

April 17: hooking mortality.

April 24: ???

Nutshell summary of Mille Lacs walleye management

Over the next two months, the Messenger will run a series of articles on the management of Mille Lacs Lake’s walleye fishery. For now, here’s a brief outline:

The 1837 Treaty: In 1837, 21 years before Minnesota became a state, Ojibwe bands in central Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin ceded a vast amount of land to the United States. As part of the agreement, the bands retained the right to hunt, fish and gather on those lands.

The Treaty case: For many decades, the state of Minnesota did not recognize the treaty but required that band members follow state laws. In 1990, the Mille Lacs Band filed suit in federal court for recognition of its treaty rights. In 1993, the state Legislature voted down a settlement with the Mille Lacs Band, and the case went to court. The federal courts sided with the bands; the state appealed to the Supreme Court. In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the bands.

Co-management: The state and the bands are required to manage the lake together. Neither is in charge. The main thing they need to agree on are allocations (the amount of fish each party gets). The bands steadily increased their take from 1998 to 2012 before taking a cut for 2013. It is assumed that federal courts would allow the bands up to 50 percent of the total because that is how courts have ruled in similar cases. If the two sides can’t agree, it could end up back in court.

Population estimates: In order to set allocations, the two sides use the best scientific methods available to estimate the population of fish in the lake. The DNR and bands have relied on fall gillnet surveys, though results of tagging studies have been factored in during some years and will be again this year. From the population estimate, the two parties set a safe harvest level and allocations.

Regulations: The bands and state make their own rules to regulate the harvest. Each can choose harvest methods and set rules and limits. The only requirement is that both stay within their allocation. For state anglers, regulations are set in the spring by the DNR with input from business owners and anglers in the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group. The goal is to avoid surpassing the allocation, which could result in a shutdown of walleye angling.

Harvest estimates: The bands monitor their harvest by employing clerks to count and weigh fish as they are brought in and removed from nets. The DNR uses data from creel surveys and complicated computer models to estimate the angler harvest. These methods are as reliable as it gets in the science of biology — short of counting each fish as anglers come off the lake.

Hooking mortality: Studies have shown that a certain percentage of fish will die after being caught and released. Those deaths must be estimated and added to the state anglers’ allocation. Creel survey data are used to determine the number of released fish, which is multiplied by a certain percentage, depending on water temperature. Basically, the warmer the water, the more fish that die.

In summary, fishery managers’ options are severely limited. The “garage logic” solutions discussed in bars and fishhouses are unrealistic. Unless one side is willing to give up its rights for the sake of the other, very little will change. Our responsibility as anglers, citizens and neighbors is to know the facts and work within the limitations to arrive at the best outcome for all involved. Our coverage this spring will be designed to contribute to that effort.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger. Email him at

More on urinals

My column this week has brought in three suggestions for urinals or bathrooms that I’ll have to put on my bucket list (tee hee).

1. “The King.” This urinal is in the old Elks Lodge, now Pioneer Place, in St. Cloud. Two people with no connection to each other have recommended I pay homage to the king.

2. Stasius/Stanley’s. Northeast Mpls. It was suggested by a woman from Wahkon, believe it or not. I won’t mention her name.

3. The basement of the State Theater in Minneapolis.

One reader was concerned that I might someday regret identifying with the prince who blesses the urinal with his “wee sword.” I’ll just say that only a writer comfortable with his … um … you know … could pen such a line.

Obviously it was meant to be an over-the-top festival of puns and metaphors. Since I never have enough time to do these things right, I’m always left with a few regrets. In this case, I didn’t work in “leak” or “whiz.” (My wife’s Facebook comment in reaction to my post of the column link: “Gee whiz.” Well done, m’lady.)

I must say I’m especially proud to add “unshackling a prisoner” to the lexicon of bathroom euphemisms.

If you have any good bathrooms for me to visit, let me know in the comment section.

Valentine’s Day poetry

Diane showed me this Valentine’s card I gave her in New Zealand in 2007. I’m proud of this poem I wrote her:

Diane —

I’m glad you’re my valentine
and partner in crime
We’ll live a life of adventure
Until we’re in dentures.
Remember that night on the Milford
When I thought my boxers had been pilfered
By the twins with the phlegm?
Remember thegm?
Home will be that much more enjoyable
Now that you’re that much more employable.
I love you,
It’s true.

Privy preservation a priority for posterity’s posteriors

My column from the Mille Lacs Messenger, Feb. 13, 2013.

My fondest memory of hitting the head occurred at the James J. Hill library in St. Paul. I was an 18-year-old senior in high school, and I wrote myself a note to get out of school.
Most kids skip school to drink beer, smoke weed, or roll in the hay with their sweetheart. I went to the library to work on a research paper.
The library itself was beautiful — shelves, chairs and tables of dark wood, with brass lamps shaded by green glass, and ladders rolling silently along a metal track among the musty tomes.
The day’s most enduring revelation, however, came on a break from my studies, when I beheld a work of art that was off limits to half the population. In the men’s room stood a marble sculpture fit for a king, or a king of industry like James J. Hill.
I was unworthy to undo my trousers in its presence, much less to soil its face with such an abominable stream, but the weakness of the flesh overwhelmed my aesthetic hesitation — and my shoes paid the price for my nervous obeisance to this awesome porcelain god.
Over the years, when I’ve had business to do in the neighborhood, I’ve made several pilgrimages to leave another offering at the mecca of micturition.
In the meantime, at a restroom closer to home, I discovered a slightly-less-holy grail to fill when my cup runneth over, but which brings a similar sense of accomplishment in lieu of the loo in the library.
In the basement of the Mille Lacs County Courthouse was a men’s room with a floor and stall doors of magnificent marble and a urinal that may not be worthy of a monarch, but that any prince would be proud to bless with his wee sword or any priest honored to baptize with his holy water.
Many a county commissioner has considered a vote in that makeshift office. Many a treasurer has left a deposit. Many a sheriff has unshackled a prisoner. Many an attorney has argued a case before a ghostly jury of pee-ers, who rendered their verdicts in tinkling voices and responded to closing arguments with a thunderous flush of applause.
I rarely descend the stairs anymore, since the county board meets on the second floor, but a few weeks ago I thought I’d freshen up in the bowels of the basement, which I assumed had been preserved in the recent remodeling project, according to the exacting standards of the National Register of Historic Places.
Imagine my disappointment to find the door locked and this county treasure trove off limits to its citizen owners. I assumed that my trough was intact behind the locked door as some sort of lavatory experiment, and that the throne would be protected for posterity’s posteriors. With all the Johnsons in this county, I figured a John would be treated with the utmost respect.
Alas, a few weeks later I was checking out a new office in the courthouse basement when I discovered to my shock — nay, horror — that behind the locked door was not my beloved biffy, but a carpeted hallway and new sheetrocked walls.
The powder room took a powder! My can had been canned! Vanished was the vessel that had lifted my spirits as I lowered my zipper!
Fellow citizens of Mille Lacs, future generations will judge us harshly for pissing away our history and flushing our county’s artifacts down the toilet.
If an historic privy is not worthy of preservation, then our beheaded courthouse may as well be the county outhouse, and the National Register is worth no more than last year’s Sears catalog.
Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger. Follow him at