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Walleye survey in Mille Lacs Lake encouraging, DNR says

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There's good news for walleye – and anglers – on Mille Lacs Lake.

For years the walleye population in the lake has been declining because the majority of walleye that hatched didn't survive into their second fall. But for the first time since 2008, more yearling walleyes survived, the state Department of Natural Resources said Monday.

This is good news for anglers and local businesses that depend on the lake's walleye fishing. Because the walleye population has been so low in recent years, the DNR has placed restrictions on walleye fishing in the lake, which has sent some anglers elsewhere.

“We’re far from out of the woods on Mille Lacs Lake,” Rick Bruesewitz, Aitkin area fisheries supervisor for the DNR, said in the news release. “But younger walleye are showing more positive signs of survival than they have in past years.”

There are various theories on what has caused the walleye population to drop to the lowest it's been in decades, including more predators, aquatic invaders, food competition and fewer tullibee, the DNR says.

But during this year's population assessment the DNR found higher numbers of newly hatched and yearling tullibee, which provides food for larger predators, giving the smaller walleye a better chance of survival.

"This food resource also appears to have improved the overall condition of larger walleye, which was better than we’ve seen for several years," Bruesewitz said in the release.

While officials believe it'll take some time for the walleye population to fully recover, they're cautiously optimistic that this year's assessment is a sign of things to come.

These fall assessments are compiled with other information to determine safe harvest levels on the lake for the following year. The harvest levels for 2015 will be announced in January.

The 2014 walleye safe harvest level was set at 60,000 pounds – the lowest level ever. That compares to the 2006 safe harvest limit, which was set at 600,000 – the highest ever.

The DNR says limited harvests help provide the needed protection for the lake's struggling walleye population.

Conservative harvests are often used to help increase animal populations in the state. The DNR announced Monday that this year's firearms deer season harvest, which opens Nov. 8, will be the lowest since the early 1980s.

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