Mille Lacs Lake may be Minnesota's most popular place to catch walleye, but this year's fishing regulations there are decidedly unpopular with local anglers and businesses.
Now a group of them is suing the state's Department of Natural Resources, MPR News reports. The plaintiffs argue that in managing the walleye population at Mille Lacs, the DNR has failed to consider Minnesota's walleye fishing heritage as required by a 1998 amendment to the state Constitution.
Walleye levels in Mille Lacs have fallen to a 40-year low, prompting the state to impose tighter regulations on anglers hoping to reel in the state fish there.
Both the decline in walleye and the stricter rules are upsetting to those who filed the lawsuit. Their attorney, Erick Kaardel, tells the Star Tribune: “We think the DNR has to be responsible for their actions. And their actions over the past 10 years have destroyed this crown jewel of the nation."
A spokesman for the DNR told several news outlets that the agency is reviewing the lawsuit and is not ready to comment on it.
2014's walleye regulations on Mille Lacs include a ban on late night fishing that will last nearly the entire season. From May 12 (two days after the opener) until Dec. 1 fishing is prohibited between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The owner of Twin Pines Resort, Bill Eno, tells the Star Tribune he normally operates fishing launches carrying as many as 20 anglers between 8 p.m. and midnight, which Eno says are the prime hours for catching walleye.
WCCO says the lawsuit contends that DNR management has steered Mille Lacs toward trophy fishing for muskellunge, northern pike, and smallmouth bass – all of which prey on young walleye fingerlings. The DNR this year loosened regulations on taking northern and smallmouth, whose populations are near record highs.
Another point of contention for the plaintiffs is the taking of walleye during spawning season by eight Chippewa bands under fishing rights secured by a 19th Century treaty. But the DNR tells FOX 9 that when it comes to the health of a fishery only the number of fish taken by anglers matters, not the time of year.
Together, the DNR and tribal bands are allowing anglers to take 60,000 pounds of walleye out of Mille Lacs this year. The Star Tribune says that's 10 percent of what was permitted a decade ago.
The plaintiffs hope a judge will rule on their lawsuit before the May 10 opener of walleye season.