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Public Mille Lacs fisheries group sets ground rules

ISLE - The first meeting of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee on Thursday went off mostly free of the rancor surrounding the falling walleye population in Minnesota's prized fishing lake. However, the animosity that followed the DNR's e...

The Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meets for the first time Thursday at McQuoid's Inn in Isle. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch
The Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meets for the first time Thursday at McQuoid's Inn in Isle. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

ISLE - The first meeting of the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee on Thursday went off mostly free of the rancor surrounding the falling walleye population in Minnesota's prized fishing lake. However, the animosity that followed the DNR's early closure of the walleye season on Mille Lacs in August still floated around in the background throughout the meeting.

Don Pereira, DNR fisheries chief, told the newly assembled board he hopes they will improve upon the environment of the prior Mille Lacs public input group it replaces. Still, he acknowledged that tough, frank discussions are inevitable.

"Let's not be afraid of tension, tension is okay," Pereira said. "A good, open discourse is going to be really important."

The committee did not tackle the larger questions surrounding Mille Lacs at length, but they heard reports from DNR staff about the walleye population specifics and helped set the foundation for what future meetings might look like.

The DNR's facilitator, Grant Wilson, began the meeting at McQuoid's Inn resort in Isle by laying down ground rules that asked the committee members operate by the "platinum rule"-- that is, do unto others as they would do unto themselves.

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Pereira said the process of narrowing down 130 applicants into a 17-member advisory board has been difficult. The group faces a difficult task, however: channeling the public's opinion to the DNR as the agency decides whether to allow ice fishing on Mille Lacs.

Pereira told the members they were advisors to the DNR, and they would not be directly shaping policy. What the DNR actually decides may ruffle some of the committee's feathers, he acknowledged.

"Some of you are going to be disappointed in the decision," he said. "You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time."

The DNR completed fish surveys on the lake in September, and a decision on the scope of the allowed ice fishing season is expected the week of Oct. 26.

"A lot of you are anxious, justifiably so" about what may happen to the ice fishing season, Pereira said.

The committee did not have any Minnesota state legislators on it by design, Pereira said-the legislators had "their own venue" to speak out on the issue. The Minnesota Legislature's Mille Lacs walleye working group collapsed after only a handful of meetings earlier this year, with legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton blaming each other for the failure to put together government aid for those affected by the season closure.

Pereira said Thursday there had been "some consternation" over the fact the DNR had appointed the chair and vice chair of the public advisory committee. The DNR wants the committee to eventually pick its own leadership, he said, but it appointed leadership for the committee as a starting point.

One of the new group's first discussions was whether or not each member should respond to media questions.

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Steven Johnson of Johnson's Portside resort in East Township said they should beware of the press.

"I think the media's going to be all over everybody," Johnson said. "We're all going to get phone calls."

He later asked that members not call the situation in Mille Lacs a "crisis" as the media had latched onto the idea, he said.

However, Pereira cautioned against simply refusing press questions. The consensus of the group appears to be to wait and readdress the public relations issue when more substantial discussions take place at subsequent meetings.

The group has a number of ideas for future meeting topics besides the ice fishing season.

Suggestions included diversifying tourism on the lake, refining the DNR's messaging so that people understand other gamefish populations are healthy, and inviting a Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe biologist to come to future meetings to get a better understanding of their harvesting operations on the lake.

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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The Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meets for the first time Thursday at McQuoid's Inn in Isle. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch
The Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee meets for the first time Thursday at McQuoid's Inn in Isle. Kelly Humphrey/Brainerd Dispatch

Related Topics: FISHING
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