Outfitters seek reset of Mille Lacs walleye rules; suit says DNR mismanaged fishery

Several Mille Lacs Lake outfitters are hoping court action will force the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to start over on walleye fishing regulations for the lake.

The lawsuit announced Thursday argues that in managing the fishery, the DNR hasn't considered walleye fishing heritage as required by the state's Constitution.

The resort owners are citing a 1998 state constitutional amendment to preserve fishing heritage. They argue the DNR didn't consider the amendment when formulating its latest walleye regulations, which include an extended ban on night fishing.

The Mille Lacs walleye population is at a 40-year low, and it's hurt business on the lake.

The DNR has been encouraging Mille Lacs business owners to play up the lake's smallmouth bass fishery, said attorney Erick Kaardal.

"The government is trying to impose its heritage on us. The government is designing a fishing heritage, constructing a fishing heritage and they want us to accept it when the 1998 law says the government's duty is to preserve the people's tradition," he said.

DNR officials said they are still reviewing the lawsuit and are declining comment, but DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr told MPR News' The Daily Circuit that the Mille Lacs ecosystem is extremely complex.

"So when you have not just a large population of walleyes but you've got a large population of northerns and smallmouth bass and fluctuating populations of bait fish like perch or tullibee, it's just extraordinarily difficult to think about how you can manage that type of a living ecosystem, especially in the face of natural phenomena like climate change or like water quality improvement," Landwehr said.

An attorney for the outfitters said the DNR has mismanaged the lake. He expects a decision soon from the state Court of Appeals that could force the DNR to lift the Mille Lacs night fishing ban.

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