Walleye comeback on Leech Lake complete; killing of predatory birds credited

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"Welcome back, walleye" might be an appropriate banner for resort owners on northwestern Minnesota's Leech Lake.

After a big drop in walleye numbers a decade ago, the population there is now fully recovered, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR released a new five-year plan for managing the 110,000-acre lake Monday. The 39 page plan says the lake's walleye population has fully recovered. It calls for continuing to control the population of a bird – the double crested cormorant – that preys on yellow perch, which also happen to be the favorite food of walleye.

Locals, of course, are already aware of the walleye's comeback. The Leech Lake Tourism Bureau boasts on its walleye page: "Fishing is as good as it's been in decades and it's only getting better."

The sunny outlook does include one cloud, though. While the walleye population is strong, the DNR notes that perch numbers have fallen off. The report says heavy perch fishing by ice anglers may explain that and suggests tighter limits may be on the way.

Cormorant control to continue

Back in 2005, when Leech Lake's walleye numbers were especially low, sharpshooters began killing off some of the cormorants on the lake.

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, whose reservation includes part of the lake, operates the cormorant program through its Division of Resources Management.

 Cormorant photo from Peter Wallack via Wikimedia Commons)

Cormorant photo from Peter Wallack via Wikimedia Commons)

MPR News reported at the time that 2,000 birds were killed in the first month. By 2008 the DNR told MinnPost 11,000 cormorants had been killed in four years and walleye numbers were rebounding.

The DNR's plan calls for keeping the number of cormorants on the lake to no more than 500 nesting pairs.

But at least one resort owner thinks that's too many. Tim Anderson of Spirit of the North Resort tells the Associated Press cormorants are "a huge vacuum sucking perch out of the system."

Anderson sat on a 16-member Leech Lake Fisheries Input Group that advised the DNR on the five-year plan for the lake.

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