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Advisory committee talks about renegotiating co-management on Mille Lacs

ONAMIA - The Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee on Monday explored the possibility of the state pressing tribal bands for retooling co-management of walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake.

Brad Parsons, the DNR's Central Region Fisheries Manager, addresses the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meeting Monday at Izatys Resort in Onamia. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch.
Brad Parsons, the DNR's Central Region Fisheries Manager, addresses the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meeting Monday at Izatys Resort in Onamia. Zach Kayser/Brainerd Dispatch.

ONAMIA - The Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee on Monday explored the possibility of the state pressing tribal bands for retooling co-management of walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake.

The committee met at Izaty's Golf Resort in Onamia, where Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Deputy General Counsel David Iverson told them about the legal framework that dictates how the DNR sets harvest limits with the American Indian tribes who mass harvest on the lake via the negotiations on the joint "Fisheries Technical Committee."

The current co-management system has its origins in a lawsuit that stretched throughout the 1990s, where tribal bands, including the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, asserted their rights under federal treaties to harvest in certain areas.

One phase of the court proceedings resulted in a stipulated agreement in July of 1996 between the state and the tribal bands that set up co-management of the resources in treaty areas, including a protocol on fishing.

The case eventually was decided by a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999.

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Earlier, in 1997, the court system decided not to allocate resources between tribal harvest and harvesters from the rest of the state.

"There is no court order that says how much each side gets," Iverson said.

However, committee members raised the possibility of setting allocation.

"We've always been told, 'Our hands are tied, there's nothing we can do,'" said Bill Eno of Twin Pines Resort and launch service.

That may not be accurate, Eno added.

"Our hands are tied because you need the facts," Iverson replied.

Iverson said the court still has jurisdiction, and could make a decision on allocation with the facts presented. The courts said that before a party can get allocation, they need to establish their right to a fair share has been "substantially or irreparably injured" as a result of the other party.

Minnesota cannot impose its own regulations if the bands can effectively self regulate and if tribal regulations are adequate to meet conservation, public health and public safety needs.

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In the event of a serious conservation issue, the state can regulate the tribes' harvest if regulations are necessary and reasonable, the regulation does not discriminate and the state has done all it can with its own non-band harvest to address the conservation concern.

The state closed Lake Mille Lacs to walleye last summer, Eno said-if not that, what would count as conservation concern?

DNR fisheries chief Don Pereira responded by saying the walleye decline over 10 years is due to environmental factors, not fishing.

"That decline is not due to fishing by anybody," he said, but rather, "other changes in walleye dynamics."

Eno said co-management needed to be rebuilt even if it meant going back to the courts.

However, for the court to get involved, the state and band need to have a dispute. Since there's not a dispute, taking it back to court wouldn't work, Iverson said.

Iverson described the dispute resolution process within the FTC. It involves the dispute being handed over to the state fisheries chief and the band's fisheries manager, who then resolve it between the two of them. If that doesn't work, they would then choose a mediator.

Minnesota and the bands previously entered into mediation in 2003, Iverson said.

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State wants public to access FTC meetings

The committee also discussed the DNR's efforts to open up the FTC meetings to public attendees, which so far have mostly been unsuccessful.

The bands' position is that the protocols set up by the courts mean the public cannot attend the meetings. However, the state doesn't feel the same way.

"The protocols are silent on who, other than members, can be in attendance," Iverson said.

Pereira called getting observers allowed at the FTC meetings a "long-standing issue for us for quite a while."

While the bands allow certain Minnesota legislators to come to the meetings, they felt it wasn't acceptable for the two co-chairs of the advisory committee to attend, Pereria said.

"To push it further, we would have to invoke mediation," he told the committee.

Preempting his comments with the assertion "I don't agree with this," Pereira said the bands feared the state's biologist would behave differently if the public was present at meetings.

 

Next FTC meeting next week

Dean Hanson of Agate Bay Resort and launch service in Isle said the bands' gill netting in the spring aggravated the rest of the public.

"The time of it really offends people," he said.

Brad Parsons, DNR fisheries central region manager, said he interprets the public's "frustration" with the DNR as a clash between the DNR's position that tribal gill netting doesn't hurt the walleye population and a position by the public that it does.

The next FTC meeting is scheduled for Jan. 20 and 21 in Brainerd at the Northland Arboretum.

The DNR asked the committee what their input was for the agency going into the FTC meeting.

Except for Paul Venturelli of the University of Minnesota and Jamie Edwards of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, they all said the DNR should avoid closure of the fishing season, with some of them saying avoid it "at all costs."

During the public comment section of the meeting, Minnesota Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said the FTC and Advisory Committee meetings should be recorded in the interest of public disclosure, and inquired as to how much the DNR was complying with the protocol language that says reports from FTC meetings must be made available to the public.

 

ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or Zach.Kayser@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZWKayser .

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