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Friday, August 28, 2015

DNR redoubles Mille Lacs Lake walleye management efforts

The DNR announced today it is implementing several concrete steps aimed at improving the Mille Lacs Lake walleye population, while building a closer working relationship with the Mille Lacs community.

"Mille Lacs is an incredibly important fishery for Minnesota," said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, "and we are redoubling our efforts to ensure its long-term health."

"I strongly support the actions Commissioner Landwehr has taken today," said Gov. Mark Dayton. "These measures will be essential in restoring Lake Mille Lacs to greatness, and in earning the public's trust."

Mille Lacs Lake, known as a "walleye factory" for many years, has seen a steep decline in its walleye population, which is now at a 30-year low. On Aug. 3, the DNR closed the lake to walleye fishing after state anglers exceeded the quota of 28,600 pounds.

The intensified focus on the lake calls for action on several fronts. Some of this work is already underway:

Mille Lacs Staffing and Facilities Changes

  • New Project Leader and Additional Staff: The DNR will create a new fisheries office to focus exclusively on Mille Lacs; assign a new Mille Lacs project leader; add a new outreach specialist; and provide more staff support for monitoring and technical analysis on the lake. These staff will provide more capacity for monitoring, foster better communication with local stakeholders, help with hatchery and stocking efforts, and assist the community with outreach and marketing efforts.
  • New Fisheries Facility: The DNR will work with the Legislature to secure funding for a new fisheries management facility that will include a cool-water hatchery. The facility will be built in the Mille Lacs community and will provide room for monitoring equipment and staff. The space will accommodate educational, visitor and interpretive functions as well as serving as a location for public information meetings. Bond funds will be requested during the 2016 legislative session for facility construction. Until a new facility is available, the DNR will lease an office in a community near the lake to house the project leader and other Mille Lacs Lake staff.

Biological Actions on Mille Lacs

  • Pilot Stocking Effort:  The DNR will stock walleye fry in Mille Lacs in 2016 in a pilot effort to develop and refine techniques. While stocking is not necessary today with the abundant natural spawning, the DNR wants to be ready to go if and when such stocking becomes necessary. The pilot will help develop techniques to maintain the unique genetics of the lake, ensure that aquatic invasive species in Mille Lacs are not spread to other water bodies, and identify appropriate stocking levels. The DNR staff will chemically mark walleye fry to study their survival throughout their lifecycle. Egg-take, hatching, and stocking will occur in spring of 2016.
  • Cormorant Control: The DNR is already in discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to secure control permits for double-crested cormorants.

Community Outreach on Mille Lacs

  • New Advisory Committee: The DNR will create a 12- to 16-member panel representing businesses, anglers, local officials, and others to help guide future management decisions. A draft charter is under development now and the commissioner will appoint members in September.
  • Increased Transparency of Quota Setting: The DNR will increase the transparency of the quota-setting process by inviting two advisory committee members to attend and observe fisheries technical committee meetings.
  • Promote Other Fishing and Outdoor Recreation: The DNR will promote other great fishing opportunities in the lake, including northern pike, smallmouth bass, and muskellunge, and the many recreational resources in the region. The DNR offers a wide variety of options for outdoor  recreation  in the Mille Lacs area including other lakes, hunting lands, state parks, bike trails, ATV and snowmobile trails, and paddling opportunities. In an ongoing partnership with Explore Minnesota Tourism, the DNR is collaborating on the Do the Lake outreach campaign.

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