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: ???


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