The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will meet Lake Mille Lacs residents and business owners Wednesday night to discuss planned reductions in the walleye harvest this season.
The meeting follows a decision last month by the DNR and tribes that co-manage the lake to reduce this year's harvest because the lake's walleye population is at its lowest level in decades.
The meeting, between the DNR and the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group, comes ahead of 2013 fishing regulations on the lake. It serves as a way for the agency to explain possible regulations and to hear from area residents how those regulations could impact the community.
Mille Lacs is one of the state's most popular walleye fishing spots and draws anglers from around the country. It is also a major economic driver for a portion of central Minnesota, so regulations that impact fishing — especially walleye fishing — are followed closely.
In January, biologists halved the "safe harvest level" — the total amount of walleye that can be harvested from the lake — to 250,000 pounds this year, down from 500,000 pounds last year. The limit is for both sport anglers and the tribes that fish the lake.
Every year, after the safe harvest level is set, tribes declare how many walleye they will catch. Sport anglers get the remainder. This year, it is roughly 180,000 pounds of walleye. By comparison, last year, sport anglers caught more than 305,000 pounds of walleye.
Researchers reduced the amount of walleye coming out of Mille Lacs because they have observed a drop in the lake's walleye population. While they don't know why, biologists guess it has something to do with the way the lake has been managed.
Right now, the DNR uses two methods to regulate fishing on the lake: the total number of walleye that anglers can keep — right now set at four — as well as "slot limits" to protect certain sizes of fish. Under current regulations, anglers have to throw back walleye between 17 and 28 inches long.
Biologists who manage the lake say it is likely that walleye falling outside the protected size, especially the smaller ones, have been over-fished.
On top of that, there is a chance that the way other fish have been managed in Mille Lacs might have created too many predators, or trophy fish, and not enough food.
The DNR is expected to release new fishing regulations sometime before the walleye season opener in May.