Dayton about ready to give up on walleye special session to help Mille Lacs area

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It's looking less and less likely that Minnesota lawmakers will take action to help business owners near Mille Lacs cope with the early end to the walleye fishing season.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he's "doubtful" there will be a special legislative session, because lawmakers on a walleye working group haven't agreed on his $20 million proposal to help tourism-based businesses that are suffering financial losses, according to MPR News.

The walleye season on Mille Lacs ended in early August because anglers had already reached the harvest limit for the year.

The working group met three times in recent weeks, but couldn't agree on how, or even whether, the state should step in to help the resort owners, bait shops, fishing guides and other businesses that rely on walleye anglers for much of their livelihood.

Dayton said Tuesday the lawmakers have turned the issue into a “political spectacle” when they should be responding to the crisis as if it were a natural disaster, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

“Unless I hear otherwise, I assume the legislative bodies do not want to have a special session and don’t want to provide special assistance to the people of Mille Lacs who are in very serious need of it,” Dayton said, according to MPR News.

Dayton's proposal included zero-interest loans, property tax breaks and additional spending on tourism promotion for the area. But the lawmakers on the working group said Dayton's plan is too vague and doesn't address both the short-term financial issues and long-term problems facing the lake.

The walleye population in the lake has been shrinking for several years, and the DNR says it’s at its lowest level in three decades. That’s why the agency has tightened restrictions on walleye fishing at the central Minnesota lake.

Anglers are still 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 people as walleye.

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.

But it's unclear whether restocking will actually help the situation, according to the Star Tribune. 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.

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