Ojibwe Tribe Agrees to not use gill nets to fish for walleye on Lake Mille Lacs amid worries of declining numbers of fish.
In the face of decreasing numbers of walleye in Lake Mille Lacs, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe announced Friday they will not be using gill nets to catch walleye through the spring of next year.
"The Drum Keepers discussed, recommended and provided the direction that Mille Lacs Band Members must sacrifice for the sake of the walleye, to give them time to recover," Mille Lacs chief executive Melanie Benjamin wrote in a letter to band members.
Tribal members, who called the move "a tremendous sacrifice," have used large gill nets in the lake for more than a decade, drawing criticism from non-Native Americans who blame the practice on the decline of walleye in the lake, according to the Pioneer Press.
Many resort owners, who depend on tourist fishing, have claimed tribal fishing has caused them to see a drop in business as the lake was over-fished. The Pioneer Press additionally reports there are seven other tribes that are allowed to gill net the lake. It is uncertain if they will take similar measures at this time.
The DNR says gill nets are not to blame for walleye population decline and that predators, and changing conditions in the lake have caused fewer young fish to survive.
At a town hall meeting in Isle, they were set to discuss the declining walleye population when KAR 11 News reports Governor Mark Drayton announced the tribe's decision to thunderous applause. Drayton praised the news, shooting down rumors of a deal with the tribe.
"There's no deal. The tribe came forward of their own volition, offered to forego the netting next year, which is huge and they deserve a lot of credit. There's no quid pro quo there or anything," Drayton told reporters at the meeting.
The news of the tribe not gill fishing this year comes on the heels of reports that the DNR may close walleye season on Mille Lacs early because anglers are already reaching the quota of fish allowed. The Ojibwe tribe's portion of the 40,000 pound quota is around 3,000 pounds.
In an area where business depends largely based on fishing, the early close of walleye season could be a major blow to the local economy, something that was not lost on the governor.
"Closing Lake Mille Lacs to walleye fishing, that's like closing Target Field to baseball," Dayton told reporters during a meeting where the tribe made their announcement.
If the season closes early, the Governor has been making plans for financial assistance for businesses that would be negatively affected by lost fishing tourist dollars.
The DNR is still working on its latest survey of fish taken; an announcement is expected Monday concerning the status of walleye season.