The most recent Mille Lacs Lake walleye harvest estimate indicates that anglers have surpassed the state’s 2016 walleye quota, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The state, however, will not close the catch-and-release walleye season at this time, DNR officials announced today.
According to DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira, analysis of summer creel survey data has shown that the catch-and-release-only regulations on Mille Lacs are successfully conserving the lake’s future spawning population of walleye.
“Based on the data we’ve seen so far this year, keeping the season open will have minimal additional impact on the walleye population,” Pereira said. “The primary goal of the catch-and-release restriction is protecting young walleye, especially the robust 2013 year class. Current data show that only 1 percent of the 2013 fish have been impacted by hooking mortality, which is remarkably low.”
Conserving the 2013 year class of juvenile walleye until the fish reach spawning age is a critical component of recovering the Mille Lacs walleye population, fisheries offiicials say.
At the end of June, state-licensed angler harvest was estimated at only 6,950 pounds. But due to increased angler activity, warm water temperatures and high catch rates, the estimated harvest increased rapidly in July, putting the most recent creel estimate at 37,922 pounds.
Despite the catch-and-release season, hooking mortality – an estimate of the number of fish that die after being released – is measured to estimate total harvest.
This year’s walleye harvest allocation was established in January at 40,000 pounds — 28,600 for state-licensed anglers and 11,400 for tribal fishing.
In 2016, the bands with Mille Lacs Lake treaty fishing rights modified their harvest methods to help conserve young walleye, and to date have not taken their entire allocation. The state also adjusted walleye regulations by implementing the catch-and-release restriction for the open-water season.