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With walleye numbers dwindling, tribe suspends netting on Lake Mille Lacs

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The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe said it will not use nets to catch walleye on Lake Mille Lacs over the next year to help fish numbers recover.

MPR reports the band announced the decision shortly before Gov. Mark Dayton held a town meeting in Isle, in which he addressed concerns about the declining walleye population and the impact on local businesses of the imminent angling shutdown.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe netting tradition dated back to 1837.

The news was met with a standing ovation when announced at the meeting by Dayton, who said he was confident other tribes would follow the Mille Lacs Band's lead and choose not to net walleye next year, according to KSTP's Joe Augustine.

"It's a huge sacrifice. But you have to remember people of Mille Lacs band, they care about the fish and the lake," Tribal Chair Melanie Benjamin told MPR. "We want to be part of the solution in the best possible way."

"[The] decision is to temporarily suspend netting on Mille Lacs Lake for one year, through the end of the 2016 spring season, until the health of the walleye can be evaluated," the band said in a statement on its Facebook page.

Catch limit nears, walleye ban imminent

Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) set a 40,000-pound catch limit on walleye this fishing season on the popular lake, of which 11,600 pounds was earmarked for eight Indian tribes in Minnesota and Wisconsin – including the Mille Lacs Band – under treaty rights established 178 years ago.

But the DNR is preparing to shut down walleye season on the lake as both the angling and American Indian communities creep toward their limits. It's happening in part because of "unprecedented" levels of fishing seen over Fourth of July weekend, prompting concerns over the effect on Mille Lacs businesses dependent on tourism during the summer season.

FOX 9 reports resort owners on the lake received notice from the DNR to prepare for the suspension of walleye fishing possibly as soon as this coming Monday.

Dayton meanwhile is attempting to convene a special session of the legislature this summer to discuss potential state aid for affected businesses.

Explanations, tensions over vanishing walleye

The number of walleye in the lake have reached historic lows, the DNR has said, with too many young walleye failing to survive to help replenish overall stocks.

DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira told FOX 9 changes in water clarity and warm temperatures have been affecting stocks for the past decade.

The Star Tribune reports that although state scientists say netting isn't causing walleye to vanish from the lake, the tight limits and prospect of a fishing ban has caused tensions to rise between businesses, anglers and the Ojibwe.

"I can tell the Mille Lacs boys are upset and the resort owners are upset," Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission spokeswoman Sue Erickson told the newspaper, adding: "Nobody will ever be able to convince some of these folks that [Indian band] netting isn’t the villain in this circumstance."

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