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The Mille Lacs walleye problem: Lots of ideas, few decisions after 2 days of talk

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Officials want a long-term plan to address the population issues plaguing Mille Lacs Lake walleye, as well as a solution to help the ailing businesses in the area that depend on fishing business.

Right now, they don't really have either.

On Wednesday, the Mille Lacs Lake legislative working group met for the second time in as many days.

While there were a number of ideas thrown around (read more on those below), no actual decisions were made on what to do next.

Sen. David Tomassoni, a DFLer from Chisholm, suggested the DNR reopen Mille Lacs for walleye fishing through Labor Day, calling it a “very good short-term solution,” the Session Daily reports.

The DNR commissioner said they'd look at it, but didn't want to give false hope.

Gov. Mark Dayton seemed even less enthused at that option, MPR News reports, telling reporters Thursday lawmakers should be talking about how to give dependable, predictable financial help to the affected businesses – not management of the lake.

MPR News says the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission is also against reopening the lake to fishing.

Rep. Tom Hackbarth, a Republican from Cedar who co-chairs the working group, said in a statement it's clear the issues can't be solved with only financial help, and said the Dayton administration hasn't offered a "concrete proposal" that addresses both the short-term financial issues and long-term problems facing the lake.

Also considered at the meeting Wednesday, according to the Session Daily:

  • Upping the amount of tourism promotion for the area.
  • Making interest-free loans available to those businesses, up to $100,000.
  • Enacting property tax deductions for business owners hurt by the shortage.

Meanwhile, the DNR introduced a plan to restock Mille Lacs with walleye for next spring, The Associated Press reports, in hopes of helping the population. It would be the first time that's been done on the lake.

According to the Star Tribune, that wouldn't really fix anything though. The problem right now is that young walleye aren't surviving, and experts aren't sure why, the paper says. Long-term, restocking the lake doesn't address that issue.

This comes in the wake of an abrupt end to the walleye season Monday night, prompted by the state exceeding the allotment for this year. Dayton has said he wants to call lawmakers back to St. Paul for a special session to provide economic help to Mille Lacs-area businesses, struggling due to the early end of the season.

It's not clear if a special session will happen, however.

The working group meets again on Aug. 13.

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