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Anglers exceed Mille Lacs walleye quota, season continues anyway

After a drastic increase in walleye take on Mille Lacs Lake despite the catch-and-release season, state officials announced Tuesday that anglers had exceeded a walleye quota it had agreed upon with local American Indian tribes, but they would kee...

After a drastic increase in walleye take on Mille Lacs Lake despite the catch-and-release season, state officials announced Tuesday that anglers had exceeded a walleye quota it had agreed upon with local American Indian tribes, but they would keep the fishing season going anyway.

In accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources negotiates quotas with the tribes that hold fishing rights to the lake.

Even though the 2016 open water season is catch and release, the state still tracks "hooking mortality" where fish are killed unintentionally in the course of being hooked and brought out of the water. Although the fish are reportedly biting well on Mille Lacs, officials say that doesn't mean the population is fine because factors like weather and food can encourage fish to strike on lines.

DNR survey data showed that the killing of walleyes by anglers skyrocketed from an estimated 6,950 pounds in June to 37,922 pounds in July. This exceeded the state's quota of 28,600 pounds.

In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton said he had directed the DNR to keep the season open, regardless.

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"Closing the walleye fishing season on Mille Lacs would devastate area businesses and communities," he said. "The State's fisheries experts have assured me that continuing catch-and-release on Mille Lacs will not negatively impact the health of the walleye fishery."

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said via a spokesperson that "we do not see a conservation issue" with keeping the season open and that closing it would have a "devastating" impact on local businesses.

Don Pereira, DNR Fisheries chief, said there wouldn't be a conservation benefit to shutting the season down, as what happened at roughly the same time in the season in 2015. Businesspeople on the lake have since leveled heavy criticism at the DNR for the decision.

Dayton said he had asked tribal leaders "for their understanding and forbearance."

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission is a key representative body that negotiates the with the DNR on behalf of the tribes to establish the quotas each season. Dylan Jennings, GLIFWC spokesperson, said Tuesday they had received notice that morning of the DNR's decision.

"The tribes stayed within their quota as agreed upon, and they were looking for the same to come from the state," he said. "At the end of the day, this is about the resource, and the health of that resource."

Jennings did not comment when asked if GLIFWC would bring a legal action against the DNR.

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