New regulation options aim to rebuild Mille Lacs walleye population
Faced with a declining walleye population, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will change fishing regulations on Mille Lacs Lake in 2013 to protect the lake’s younger and smaller walleye.
The agency shared potential regulation options with citizens Wednesday, Feb. 27, during a public input gathering at a town hall near Garrison. “We are fully committed to doing whatever is necessary to improve the walleye population as fast, fairly and efficiently as possible,” said Dirk Peterson, DNR fisheries chief. “Mille Lacs is one of the premier walleye lakes in Minnesota and continues to be a great place to fish. However, we need to reduce walleye mortality on certain sized fish and that will translate into different regulations for the upcoming season.”
DNR fisheries experts are considering three length-based regulation options to ensure the state’s walleye harvest is below the safe harvest level of 178,500 pounds and combined state-tribal safe harvest level of 250,000 pounds. The options would allow anglers to keep walleye from 17- to 19-inches, 18- to 20-inches or 19- to 21-inches and, potentially, one trophy walleye longer than 28 inches. The DNR has not yet decided which 2-inch length option it will select.
The agency also is considering additional regulations to reduce walleye mortality. Options include an extended night fishing ban, reduced bag limits, the use of circle hooks for live bait and live bait restrictions. New regulations to potentially increase the harvest on smallmouth bass and northern pike also are being discussed as both are predators of walleye and the prey that walleye eat. All of these options would reduce walleye fishing mortality to varying degrees.
A decision on the slot limit length, daily bag limits, and other options is expected in early March. Currently, anglers must immediately release all walleye from 17- to 28-inches; the possession limit is four with only one longer than 28 inches. “The DNR is taking a broader look at regulation options because the safe harvest is at the lowest level since treaty management began in 1997, and a new length-based regulation by itself may not be sufficient,” Peterson said. “We are listening to anglers, business owners and others to identify a set of options that protects small fish and is as acceptable as possible to those who enjoy and economically benefit from the lake.”
Peterson said it is especially important for regulations to help conserve the lake’s large 2008 walleye year class because currently no strong year class is coming up behind these 16- to 17-inch fish.
Walleye in the 14- to 18-inch range, especially males, have been harvested heavily. That’s because state slot limits allowed anglers to keep this size fish and tribal nets also selectively catch fish in this size range.
Protective smallmouth bass and northern pike regulations may also have played a role in decreasing walleye numbers because they prey on young walleye and are competitors for the forage species walleye prey upon.
For Mille Lacs anglers, a 2-inch harvest slot limit would not be unprecedented. Two-inch harvest slots were implemented in 2001, 2002 and 2007. Similarly, angler kill has been below the 2013 allocation four of the past 10 years.
Peterson said one of the emerging challenges of managing Mille Lacs is the complexity added by the evolving biological implications of Eurasian watermilfoil, spiny waterfleas and zebra mussels. The impacts and interactions of these unwanted aquatic invasive species are not well understood but are making the lake increasingly unpredictable.
For example, Eurasian watermilfoil has created more habitat for pike and bass. Zebra mussels are changing the nature of bottom substrates. Spiny water fleas may be competing with larval fish for small zooplankton. Climate and weather conditions – namely warmer weather patterns – also have resulted in low tullibee numbers and higher hooking mortality due to warmer water temperatures.
“There’s a lot we know about Mille Lacs Lake, but it is a complex system and there’s much we don’t know, too,” Peterson said. “What anglers should know is that we are committed to fixing this problem and providing quality walleye fishing for generations to come.”
The DNR has raised a number of conservation concerns this past year with Chippewa bands based on walleye population structure changes that may be linked to past state and tribal harvest strategies.
Based on population estimates, the bands voluntarily reduced their walleye harvest allocation from 142,500 pounds to 71,250 pounds for the 2013 fishing season, which allowed a higher safe harvest level for state anglers.
The DNR will take additional public comments on the proposals by email at email@example.com
More information on Mille Lacs Lake and its fisheries can be found at www.mndnr.gov/millelacslake
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2013 spring light goose action begins
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds interested participants that the spring conservation action on “light” geese (snow geese, blue-phased snow geese, and the smaller Ross’s goose) will open Friday, March 1, and run through Tuesday, April 30, again this spring.
The action is allowed under a federal conservation order which permits the take of “light” geese during the spring. The conservation order season is in place to try to reduce the population of snow geese and Ross’s geese that breed in the Arctic coastal areas and around Hudson Bay. High populations of these birds have caused considerable habitat damage to these fragile ecosystems.
A spring light goose permit is required and may be obtained through any DNR license agent, via telephone at 888-665-4236 or online at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense
. The $3.50 application fee covers the cost to issue the permit. No other license, stamp, or permit is required.
Customers who use the phone to apply will receive a temporary authorization number in lieu of the permit until it is mailed to the applicant. People who use the Internet to apply can print their own permit when completing the transaction and will not receive a permit by mail.
Most regulations in place during fall waterfowl season also will apply during the spring season, including nontoxic shot requirements and federal baiting regulations. In addition, all refuges closed to either duck or goose hunting during fall seasons will remain closed during the spring season. Shooting hours are one half-hour before sunrise until one half-hour after sunset. No daily or possession limits apply. Electronic calls and unplugged shotguns are allowed.
Minnesota has participated in this spring conservation action each year since 2000 and harvest of light geese has varied from a few hundred to several thousand birds each spring.
“Minnesota is on the extreme eastern edge of the spring migration corridor for snow geese through the Upper Midwest,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “In addition, March weather, particularly snow and ice conditions, have a major impact on spring migration, migration routes, and migration timing of snow geese in Minnesota.” A summary of regulations will be available from license vendors, DNR wildlife offices or by calling the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-646-6367.
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Lake of the Woods ‘Keep it Clean’ campaign underway
A campaign to clean up Lake of the Woods after the ice fishing season is making a difference, organizers said.
Spurred by trailers full of garbage and debris hauled away from the Zippel Bay State Park shoreline following last year’s ice fishing season, a group of stakeholders within Lake of the Woods County created the campaign, “Keep it Clean.”
The aim of the campaign is to protect, maintain and promote cleanliness for the landscape, water resources and shoreline of the lake in northern Minnesota as a special place for everyone to enjoy, said Joe Henry, Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau.
“Already, the fact that people are simply talking about it, the awareness and the amount of garbage we are seeing in the dumpsters shows the campaign is working,” Henry said. “We will better realize the effect of the campaign once the ice goes out.”
In addition to education, awareness and enforcement, five dumpsters with the “Keep It Clean” logo have been placed at strategic access points along the shore of the lake.
Reports of debris on Minnesota’s waterways are common this time of the year, with everything from bags of assorted garbage to propane cylinders discarded on the ice.
Litter is a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000. State conservation officers also have solid waste civil citation authority. These civil citations are “by the pound” or “by the cubic foot” penalties, and since they are not criminal charges, they don’t require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The person suspected of littering must pay the penalty and clean up the mess.
State Conservation Officer Jeff Birchem of Baudette has been involved with the Lake of the Woods initiative and wants everyone to properly dispose of used materials with refuse haulers or at a landfill. Litter tarnishes nature’s beauty, destroys wildlife habitats and ruins many opportunities for recreation, he said.
The groups involved with the program hope it spreads statewide, Birchem said.
“We have dumpsters out and have done numerous other educational projects to get this going,” he said. “One of our hopeful outcomes is that other parts of the state might pick up on it.”
The “Keep It Clean” initiative includes representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District, Lake of the Woods Tourism Bureau, Lake of the Woods County and Friends of Zippel Bay State Park.
The DNR offers the following tips to keep Minnesota waterways clean:
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- Set an example for others, especially children, by not littering.
- Properly dispose of any materials that could trap or injure wildlife.
- Check with a local refuse provider or landfill for disposal of household items.
- Have a litter bag or trash container when traveling or outdoors.
- Secure trash container covers to prevent wind or animals from spreading litter.
- Cover and secure any vehicle, truck, or trailer carrying refuse
- When visiting any recreation area, make sure to leave the area clean for the next person to enjoy.
Moose population drops dramatically; hunting season will not open
A recently completed aerial survey of moose in northeastern Minnesota indicates the rate of population decline has accelerated dramatically.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today that the northeast population declined 35 percent from last year. Since 2010, the moose population has declined 52 percent.
In response to the survey results, the DNR will not open a 2013 state moose hunting season or consider opening future seasons unless the population recovers.
“The state’s moose population has been in decline for years but never at the precipitous rate documented this winter,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “This is further and definitive evidence the population is not healthy. It reaffirms the conservation community’s need to better understand why this iconic species of the north is disappearing from our state.”
Landwehr stressed the state’s limited hunts are not the cause of the population decline.
“Yet taking this action is reasonable and responsible in light of latest data and an uncertain future,” Landwehr said
Based on the aerial survey conducted in January, the new population estimate is 2,760 animals, down from 4,230 in 2012. The population estimate was as high as 8,840 as recently as 2006.
Completed in 2011, the DNR’s moose management and research plan established biological and management thresholds for closing the season.
While those thresholds have not been met, DNR managers did not anticipate such a precipitous decline in the overall moose population when the thresholds were established.
“It’s now prudent to control every source of mortality we can as we seek to understand causes of population decline,’’ said Landwehr, explaining the rationale for closing the season.
To help solve why moose are rapidly dying, the DNR is leading the largest and most high-tech multi-partner moose research effort ever initiated.
Starting in January, wildlife researchers began fitting 100 moose in northeastern Minnesota with GPS tracking and data collection collars. This multi-year research project will investigate the causes of adult moose mortality, calf mortality, calf survival, moose use of existing habitat and habitat quality. To date, 92 collars have been placed on moose in the Grand Marais, Ely and Two Harbors areas.
Information and insights from this pioneering research may help identify management options that could stop or slow the moose population decline.
Rolf Peterson, a research professor at Michigan Technological University who is renowned for his study of the wolf-moose relationship on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale and chaired the DNR’s former moose advisory committee, concurred with the DNR’s commitment to conduct pioneering research and discontinue hunting until more is known.
“The DNR’s decision to suspend hunting makes sense given the disturbing and abrupt decline in moose numbers,” Peterson said. “To me, the big news is the incredibly disappointing survey results. The hunting decision is simply a logical reaction to an uncertain situation that researchers are trying to resolve.”
The DNR has conducted aerial moose population surveys in northeastern Minnesota since 1960. The survey involves flying transects in 49 randomly selected plots spread across the Arrowhead region of Minnesota. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and 1854 Treaty Authority contributed funding and provided personnel for the annual survey.
A copy of the aerial survey report is available online at www.mndnr.gov/moose, a Web page that also provides field updates from moose researchers, an interactive map of the study area as well as photographs and video of field research activities.
2012 was a bad year for poachers
A record number of Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline calls referred to conservation officers (CO) with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) led to a significant increase in poaching arrests in 2012.
TIP calls referred to COs jumped 54 percent in 2012 to 2,051, compared with 1,328 in 2011. The previous record was 1,866 in 1981, when TIP was founded.
Last year’s calls led to 359 arrests, mostly related to deer, fish and waterfowl violations. The arrests represent a 29 percent increase over 2011. The record high is 428 arrests in 1991.
“Many good cases are the result of citizens calling the TIP hotline at 800-652-9093,” said Col. Jim Konrad, DNR Enforcement director.
Konrad said the record increase in TIP calls that were referred to COs and resulted in arrests indicates that more people are reporting illegal activities they see afield. He noted that eyewitness reports are strong tools in combating violations.
Last May, CO Eric Schettler of Fairmont received four TIP calls within 30 minutes about possible fish over-limits. The calls resulted in enforcement action against three poachers with 198 crappies more than the legal limit, three walleyes out of season and two nonresident anglers without licenses. Restitution and fines for the poachers were $1,550.
“If it wasn’t for TIP, these guys would have gotten away,” Schettler said.
A TIP call also led to three men catching and keeping a lot of fish from a Douglas County lake. The call contained important information: a description of the suspects, a license plate number of their vehicle and their location.
“A conservation officer has only one set of eyes and covers 650 square miles,” Konrad said. “If the public is concerned about natural resources, every person is another set of eyes that can help catch those violating the law.”
Since 1981 the TIP hotline has fielded thousands of reports of fish and wildlife violations, paying out nearly $358,000 in cash rewards that lead to arrests. Nearly half of informants turn the reward down.
Anyone witnessing a fish or wildlife violation is encouraged to contact the nearest conservation officer, law enforcement agency or the 24 hour toll-free Turn-In-Poachers (TIP) hotline at 800-652-9093. Cell phone users can dial #-T-I-P.
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Zebra mussel veligers discovered in Lake Winnibigoshish
Water sampling efforts have detected the presence of two microscopic, larval zebra mussels, also called veligers, in Lake Winnibigoshish located in Cass and Itasca counties, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said.
As part of a statewide program examining aquatic systems in large lakes, sets of water samples were collected by DNR fisheries staff from sites on Lake Winnibigoshish throughout the summer. During a recent examination, two zebra mussel veligers were found in a sample collected in mid-July near the middle of Winnibigoshish.
June, July and August, when water temperatures stay above the mid-50 degree mark, are the prime months for zebra mussel reproduction. Fourteen more sets of Winnibigoshish water samples from June through August were examined and showed no additional veligers. Adult zebra mussels have not been found in the lake. Current winter conditions prohibit further inspections.
“Although no adult zebra mussels were found, it is prudent and proactive to list Winnibigoshish Lake as infested,” said Rich Rezanka, DNR invasive species specialist. “The size of the lake may delay locating an adult population, but the presence of veligers suggests there is likely a reproducing population in the lake. This listing will allow recreationists and other resource partners to be aware of the finding and take additional precautions to prevent inadvertent spread to other lakes.”
At 58,544 acres, Winnibigoshish is the fourth largest lake in Minnesota. The lake provides recreational opportunities to thousands of anglers throughout the year. Walleye, yellow perch, northern pike and even some muskie anglers from throughout Minnesota and the country fish these waters.
With the discovery of zebra mussels in this popular lake, anglers and boaters are reminded to be extra vigilant in ensuring their boat and other water-related equipment are clean before leaving a lake access.
Each person must take responsibility to help stop the spread of zebra mussels in lakes and streams and protect the state’s aquatic ecosystems. The DNR can’t do it alone. Boaters are required by law to pull the plug and drain all water. DNR officials encourage boaters to do this on the ramp where water will drain from the boat.
Lake Winnibigoshish (DNR public waters number 11-0147) and several other connected waterbodies will be designated as infested waters.
Connected waters include:
- Cut Foot Sioux Lake (public waters number 31-0857).
- Egg Lake (31-0817).
- First River Lake (31-0818).
- Little Cut Foot Lake (31-0852).
- Little Winnibigoshish Lake (31-0850).
- Pigeon River from the Pigeon Dam Lake’s dam to Lake Winnibigoshish.
- Rabbits Lake (31-0923).
- Ravens Flowage, which includes an unnamed creek from Township 146, Range 29, Section 3 to Township 146, Range 29, Section 11 and Raven Creek.
- Raven Lake (31-0925).
- Sugar Lake (31-0925).
- Third River downstream of Highway 33.
- Third River Flowage, which is part of Lake Winnibigoshish.
- Mississippi River from the Knutson Dam downstream to Little Winnibigoshish.
Further sampling will continue next spring and summer, including additional plankton tows, dives, shoreline searches, and coordination with resource partners on the lake and downstream waters to monitor for zebra mussels. The DNR is working cooperatively with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe on this veliger finding.
Some activities, such as bait harvest and transport of water for any purpose, are currently restricted in these waters due to their designation as infested with faucet snails. The new designation with zebra mussels will be effective upon publication in the State Register on Feb. 12, 2013, and may further restrict bait harvest activities.
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