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Mille Lacs businesses hurting due to walleye limits; state may step in to help

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The state of Minnesota may step in to help struggling resort owners and other businesses in the Mille Lacs area if, as expected, walleye season is closed on the lake soon.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he is considering calling lawmakers into special session sometime in August, to have them approve a $20 million relief package geared toward resort owners and other tourism-related businesses, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

Last week the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the 28,600-pound walleye quota on Mille Lacs, the state's premiere walleye lake, will likely be reached by early August. That quota is much lower than it has been in the past, because the walleye population has declined to its lowest level in 40 years.

Anglers will still be able to fish for other species like northern pike, muskie and bass. But Mille Lacs resorters say those fish don't attract nearly as many anglers as walleye.

Resorters, fishing guides and other businesses are concerned about their livelihoods if the walleye season closes, and dozens of them came to a hastily-called meeting last Thursday with representatives from the DNR, the governor's office and local governments to vent their frustrations, the Mille Lacs County Times reports.

Members of the crowd called the situation disastrous for their local economy, and claimed the data the DNR use to estimate the walleye population are unreliable.

One person estimated 50 businesses in the area have closed over the past decade, and state officials have been ignoring their plight for years, according to the Times.

“I see all the people around here struggling," Roger Tramm, manager of the First National Bank of Milaca, said. “I see it at the bank, and it’s not just the lake, it’s all the way down the line.”

The crowd asked officials to consider a variety of short- and long-term solutions, including providing emergency relief, restocking the lake with walleye, and banning the use of gill nets during spawning season, the Times notes.

Dayton said he's been talking with legislative leaders about a possible special session and they are receptive to the idea, the Star Tribune reports.

The emergency relief package he's considering would likely include zero-interest loans, property tax breaks and additional spending on tourism promotion and advertising for the area, the newspaper notes.

Dayton is scheduled to meet with members of the Mille Lacs tourism board Wednesday, according to MPR News, and he plans to hold a public meeting in Mille Lacs on Friday.

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