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Anglers suing DNR over Mille Lacs walleye rules make their case in court

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A lawyer for resort owners and anglers on Mille Lacs Lake told a panel of judges Thursday the Department of Natural Resources ignored part of the Minnesota Constitution in setting fishing regulations on the lake.

A lawsuit filed last spring argues a Constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998 requires the DNR to take Minnesota's fishing heritage into consideration in setting regulations.

Tighter regulations the agency imposed in recent years limit the number of walleye anglers can keep and ban nighttime fishing. They're aimed at reviving Mille Lacs' plummeting walleye numbers that the DNR says reached their lowest level in 40 years.

WCCO reports attorney Erick Kaardal told the three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals “...this whole area of Mille Lacs has been devastated — the community, the way of life, the human environment. It’s a shadow of what it once was.”

As Kaardal maintained the DNR had ignored the state's fishing heritage in setting the rules, WCCO notes the presiding judge at the St. Paul hearing interjected by commenting: “It seems to me they proceeded according to statutory authority to preserve and protect the walleye.”

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At issue is Minnesota's Preserve Hunting and Fishing Heritage Amendment, which reads in part:

"...hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good."

An assistant attorney general argued the amendment is meant to prevent the Legislature from passing laws hostile to sport fishing, not to intervene in regulation, WCCO says.

As the Pioneer Press notes, businesses on Mille Lacs offered nighttime fishing excursions for decades until the new regulations were announced.

The newspaper says the DNR reports northern pike and smallmouth bass numbers are increasing in Mille Lacs. And while near-record numbers of walleye are hatching, most of the young are not reaching adulthood. Several research projects are underway to help discover why, the paper says.

The panel of judges has 90 days to issue a ruling in the case.

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