Dayton: Dark day as MN shuts Mille Lacs walleye season

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr (Left) and Gov. Mark Dayton discuss the closure of walleye fishing on Lake Mille Lacs on Monday, August 3. Tom Scheck | MPR News

Gov. Mark Dayton says he’ll hold a conference call Monday with legislative leaders to discuss options for a special session to help resort owners on Lake Mille Lacs.

The state Department of Natural Resources is closing the lake to walleye fishing at 10 p.m. Monday because the annual limit has been surpassed by 2,000 pounds. Dayton has said he wants to call a special session to help the resort owners around the lake. He called the closure of the walleye season on the lake a “dark day for Minnesota fishing" and called it "totally unacceptable to sit back and do nothing" to fix the lake's walleye woes.

“My heart goes out to those whose lives and livelihood depend upon fishing on Lake Mille Lacs, and I know it’s going to be a very hard couple of months for them," Dayton said.

Legislative leaders have said they’re open to a special session but would prefer to form a working group to discuss the options for restoring the lake's walleye population.

Officials are also looking at stocking Mille Lacs if the walleye population continues to dwindle.

Some anglers say the DNR has mismanaged the lake. Dayton acknowledged that resort owners around Lake Mille Lacs do not trust decision making at the DNR. He said the DNR employees need a course in customer relations and alluded to changes among fisheries personnel who work around Lake Mille Lacs.

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"Whenever I hear that people are not being heard by the people who pay their salaries, especially under these dire situations, that to me needs a remedy.  And that’s part of what I’ll be looking at with the commissioner under the next couple of weeks," Dayton said.

Dayton, however, said he has absolute confidence in the job DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr is doing.

The politics around fishing on Lake Mille Lacs are dicey. Resort owners are upset with how the DNR is managing the walleye population but they're also unhappy with the eight Native American bands that have treaty rights to net fish on Lake Mille Lacs during the spawning season.

The chair of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe said on Friday that her band won't do any netting next year.