Mille Lacs Lake Winter Safe-harvest Level Set

An angler releases a trophy-size walleye. (Sam Cook photo)
An angler releases a trophy-size walleye. (Sam Cook photo)

State and tribal biologists have agreed to set the winter walleye angling harvest for Mille Lacs Lake at 5,000 pounds or less, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Last winter, the total walleye harvest was 3,100 pounds.

The agreement paves the way for a decision later this month on the state’s ice-fishing regulations.

The DNR and eight Chippewa bands reached their decision after September fish assessment data showed that pounds of spawning-age walleye and numbers of walleye from the 2013 year class were above established benchmarks.

“This decision allows anglers and businesses to look forward to some harvest opportunity during the upcoming winter angling season that begins Dec. 1,” said Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief.

Pereira said the DNR will announce final details of the ice fishing season by the last week of October, following an Oct. 21 meeting with the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee.

In preparation for that meeting, DNR biologists will evaluate the potential effects of various fishing regulation alternatives for discussion with the committee. Results of those analyses and input from the advisory committee will then be considered in making the final decision for this winter.

“We will monitor creel data every two weeks during the winter and will assess in January whether we need to adjust the state’s harvest level for the rest of the winter to stay under 5,000 pounds,” Pereira said. “At the January State and Tribal Fisheries Technical Committee meeting, we will set the safe harvest level for the year, which will inform the open-water fishing regulation to be set in late winter.”

The Mille Lacs Lake walleye population is currently at a 30-year low, DNR officials say. On Aug. 3, the DNR closed the lake to walleye fishing after state anglers exceeded their quota of 28,600 pounds.

Earlier in the year, the Mille Lacs 2015 walleye safe harvest level had been set at 40,000 pounds (down from 60,000 in 2014) so that more fish could potentially survive and spawn to improve the walleye population. Under the 2015 quota, state anglers were allowed up to 28,600 pounds of walleye, and the eight Chippewa bands with 1837 Treaty harvest rights could harvest up to 11,400 pounds of walleye. When state anglers reached their quota in early August, the DNR closed the lake to walleye fishing.