Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee talks future priorities

GARRISON--Public relations and altering the system of co-management of Mille Lacs Lake with local American Indian tribes headlined discussions at the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meeting Thursday.

GARRISON-Public relations and altering the system of co-management of Mille Lacs Lake with local American Indian tribes headlined discussions at the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meeting Thursday.

The meeting in the Garrison city offices began with a brief discussion of a Dispatch article on the committee, which appeared in the paper that day. The article was about the committee's anxiety on public perceptions of fishing quality on the lake, and quoted emails where members said they wanted to examine co-management.

Several committee members praised the committee's work and said media reports like the Dispatch article failed to take into account what it had accomplished.

Brad Parsons, fisheries manager for the central region, gave an update on the DNR's activities on the lake.

Parsons said the DNR would increase trailer counts at accesses, and enable more citizen monitoring. They were looking at ways people who wouldn't necessarily be reached by a creel survey could proactively volunteer data instead, he said.


The agency was also doing its best to project positivity regarding the lakes, but the DNR is comprised of scientists and wildlife managers, not public relations experts, he cautioned. "We are trying more on the positive messaging part," Parsons said. "Sometimes social science and media relations isn't our strong suit."

The group twice broke up into small groups to brainstorm ideas, and to assess whether the group was performing its key functions, such as representing public interests around the Mille Lacs fishery and communicating issues to the DNR.

Many groups felt that the committee had so far satisfied its main objectives.

One of the longer discussions during the first brainstorming session centered on reforming the way information on upcoming rule changes is given by the DNR to the committee, and to the public.

Tina Chapman with Mille Lacs Area Tourism cited the initial decision to ban live bait for the walleye season, saying the committee had been informed only shortly before the regulation was announced to the public at large. Had the committee known earlier, they could have informed the DNR in advance on the potential negative impacts, she said.

Angler Tony Roach suggested having a MLFAC meeting before any regulation comes down. DNR Fisheries chief Don Pereira said the problem with giving the MLFAC members the rules further in advance is that it increases the risk of leaks.

Pereira said in the case of hot-button issues like Mille Lacs, the governor's office looks at a particular state government agency's messaging to the public before it's released.

During the second brainstorming session, the small groups formed ideas on what the committee should tackle next, and then prioritized them. Several people said they should revise "treaty fisheries management," or the system co-management of the lake's fishing with local American Indian tribes. This, along with combating hooking mortality, received the most votes when committee members were asked to prioritize the ideas.


Another priority was getting tribal members, possibly from the intertribal Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, involved in the group's discussions.

Tom Jones, regional treaty coordinator, gave an outline of an upcoming study on hooking mortality, or the accidental killing of walleye in the course of fishing. How much the use of live bait contributes to hooking mortality compared to artificial bait on Mille Lacs is a key question at the heart of whether or not anglers should be allowed to use it. The DNR reversed its decision on live bait for walleye fishing earlier this month.

ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or . Follow him on Twitter at .

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