Mille Lacs regulations keep tight limit on walleye

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2014 regulations will strictly limit the number of walleye anglers pull out of Mille Lacs Lake this year.

Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources is leaving last year's tighter limits in place as experts hope to see walleye numbers bounce back from a 40-year low.

The Pioneer Press reports the biggest change for walleye anglers on Mille Lacs this year is a ban on nighttime fishing that will last nearly the entire year. Last year's ban on fishing between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. lasted only into June. But this year's applies from May 12 through Dec. 1, the Pioneer Press says.

While walleye limits remain the same, the Associated Press notes that anglers will be allowed to take more northern pike and smallmouth bass.

In announcing this year's limits on Mille Lacs, the DNR pointed out that the lake's northern and smallmouth populations are at or near record highs.

DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira says the agency is committed to improving the lake's walleye numbers as quickly as possible while minimizing harm to the local economy.

The Star Tribune says the increase in limits for northern and smallmouth is aimed at giving anglers the opportunity to catch fish while keeping the walleye harvest low.

Mille Lacs is widely regarded as Minnesota's most popular walleye lake. Resorts and other businesses near the central Minnesota lake reported that tourist traffic last summer was some of the slowest they'd seen and many attributed the slowdown to the tighter fishing regulations.

Again this year anglers will be allowed to keep two walleyes between 18 and 20 inches and one longer than 28 inches.

So what caused the drop in walleye numbers? There seems to be no single answer. The DNR offers several possible ones: clearer water, climate change, zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, Eurasian water milfoil, and a treaty management approach that focused too much of the walleye harvest on too narrow a size range of fish.

Tribal bands have worked with the DNR on setting appropriate limits on Mille Lacs. The Fond du Lac band announced this month that its members will do their spearing on northeastern Minnesota lakes this year, rather than on Mille Lacs.

The DNR says its approach to managing Mille Lacs is being reviewed by a national panel of fish management experts. Pereira says "The good news is that we have more than enough spawning walleye and a history of solid egg and fry production. What we need is for the walleye that hatch to grow into strong year classes for anglers to catch. That hasn’t happened since 2008. That’s why we are focused on protecting small walleye and our ample but declining walleye spawning stock.”

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