DNR redoubles Mille Lacs Lake walleye management efforts
The DNR announced on Aug. 27 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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Public invited to comment on special fishing regulations
Anglers and others can give their opinions about Minnesota fishing regulations that are in place or are newly proposed on 18 lakes and one river.
The Department of Natural Resources has scheduled 11 public meetings across the state in coming weeks to review regulations, and the DNR is also accepting written and verbal public comments on the regulations before and 10 days after each meeting.
The meetings will include:
- Review of walleye regulations on Rainy Lake in Koochiching and St. Louis counties, and Lake Kabekona in Hubbard County.
- Review of existing bass regulations on Pierz Lake in Morrison County.
- Review of existing sunfish regulations on Deer, Battle and Pickerel lakes in Itasca County.
- Review of existing bass regulations on Mule and Blackwater lakes in Cass County, Crooked and Long lakes in Stearns County, and North Turtle Lake in Otter Tail County; and all special regulations on Horseshoe Lake in Cass County.
- Review of existing stream trout regulations on the Vermillion River in Dakota County.
- Review of proposed new sunfish regulations on Long (Higgins), Moose and Maple lakes in Todd County; Green Prairie (Fish) and Sullivan lakes in Morrison County; and Platte Lake in Crow Wing County, all in the Little Falls area.
Experimental regulations are in effect for a specific period of time, typically 10 to 15 years. Before the regulations end, fisheries managers must evaluate them and then gather input from public meetings to help determine whether to extend, modify or drop the existing experimental regulations. Over the past 30 years, fisheries managers have evaluated a variety of regulations across Minnesota and learned much from efforts to improve fish populations.
“The goal of these regulations is to expand quality fishing opportunities and sustain these opportunities in the long term,” said Todd Kalish, DNR fisheries program manager. “We need to hear from the public to help develop and evaluate regulations that meet angler expectations.”
This spring, signs were posted at public access points for waters that will be evaluated this year. Public notices for each meeting are published in local newspapers. For more information about a specific meeting, check online at www.mndnr.gov/fishing/meetings.
Call or write to local fisheries offices to comment about regulations proposals. Telephone numbers of local fisheries offices can be found online at www.mndnr.gov/areas/fisheries, or on page 88 of the 2015 Fishing Regulations handbook. The offices will accept written or verbal comments up to 10 days following a local meeting.
Meeting details are as follows:
- Cass and Hubbard counties: Existing walleye regulations on Lake Kabekona, 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, Community Meeting Room at Northwoods Bank of Minnesota, 1200 First St. East in Park Rapids; existing bass regulations on Blackwater and Mule lakes; and all special regulations on Horseshoe Lake, 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the Woodrow Township Hall, 1133 County Road 11 Northwest in Hackensack.
- Dakota County: Existing trout regulations on the Vermillion River, 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, Vermillion River Highlands Wildlife Management Area Office, 15325 Babcock Ave. in Rosemount.
- Itasca County: Existing sunfish regulations on Deer, Battle and Pickerel lakes, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, Bigfork City Hall, 200 Main Ave. in Bigfork.
- Otter Tail County: Existing bass regulations on North Turtle Lake, 7-8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, Fergus Falls DNR Headquarters, 1509 First Ave. North in Fergus Falls.
- Morrison County: Existing bass regulations on Pierz Lake, 8-4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, at the Little Falls Area Fisheries Office, 16543 Haven Road. New sunfish regulations on Green Prairie (Fish) and Sullivan lakes will be discussed at two meetings from 7-9 p.m. Sept. 8, Club of the Pines, 21900 370th Ave. in Hillman; and 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, Long Prairie City Hall, 615 Lake St. South in Long Prairie.
- Todd County: A proposal for new sunfish regulations on Long (Higgins), Moose and Maple lakes will be discussed at two meetings from 7-9 p.m. Sept. 8, Club of the Pines, 21900 370th Ave. in Hillman; and 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, Long Prairie City Hall, 615 Lake St. South in Long Prairie.
- Crow Wing County: New sunfish regulations on Platte Lake in Crow Wing County will be discussed at two meetings from 7-9 p.m. Sept. 8, at the Club of the Pines, 21900 370th Ave. in Hillman; and 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 9, at the Long Prairie City Hall, 615 Lake St. South in Long Prairie.
- Koochiching and St. Louis counties: Existing walleye regulation on Rainy Lake, 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, Rainy River Community College Theater, 1501 U.S. Highway 71 in International Falls.
- Stearns County: Existing bass regulations on Crooked and Long lakes, 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, Lyndon Town Hall, 21367 County Road in Clearwater.
Anyone who cannot attend a local meeting may attend an open house about the regulation proposals from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23, at DNR headquarters in St. Paul, 500 Lafayette Road. No formal presentations will be made at the open house, but staff will be available to take comments on any proposal before Friday, Oct. 3. Comment by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 651-259-5239.
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DNR announces fall duck and goose seasons
Minnesota’s regular waterfowl season will open a half-hour before sunrise on Saturday, Sept. 26, with similar bag limits and season dates that were in place last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“While the season structure is similar to recent years, we adjusted the duck season dates in the south duck zone based on hunter preferences,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.
The waterfowl seasons are based on a federal framework that applies to all states in the Mississippi Flyway.
More information on duck, goose, sandhill crane and other migratory bird hunting seasons will be available in the 2015 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations, available in mid-August in booklet form and online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
Duck seasons and limits
Duck season will be open for 60 days in each of the three waterfowl zones.
- In the north zone, duck season is Saturday, Sept. 26, through Tuesday, Nov. 24.
- In the central zone, duck season is Saturday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 4, closes for five days, then reopens Saturday, Oct. 10, and runs through Sunday, Nov. 29.
- In the south zone, duck season is Saturday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 4, closes for 10 days, then reopens Thursday, Oct. 15, and runs through Friday, Dec. 4. The re-opening coincides with the annual statewide teachers’ conference on Oct. 15-16 when many schools do not schedule classes.
The only bag limit change from the 2015 season is for canvasback, which increases from one to two per day. The daily duck bag limit remains six ducks per day. The mallard bag limit remains four per day, including two hen mallards. The daily bag limits remain at three for wood duck and three for scaup.
All states in the Mississippi Flyway were offered the option for a September teal season or two bonus blue-winged teal during the regular season. Minnesota did not participate in either teal option last year and again made the choice not to take a teal season or bonus blue-winged teal option this year.
“We’ve had nearly two decades of liberal duck seasons with 60 days of hunting and six-duck daily bag limits,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “In recent years, the duck season has opened one week earlier than in the past, which has afforded Minnesota hunters more opportunity to take teal and wood ducks.”
In addition, waterfowl hunting in open water on five large water bodies in Minnesota has also been allowed.
“For these reasons, we don’t believe that an early teal season or further liberalization by adding two bonus blue-winged teal to the daily bag for the first part of the season is needed,” Landwehr said.
Mallard abundance from a continental spring survey that includes Minnesota is used to determine overall duck season length. This year’s estimate was 11.8 million mallards, which was well above the long-term average. Since 1997, duck season length has been 60 days each year and the mallard population has ranged from 6.8 million to 11.8 million mallards.
“The status of mallards, and most other species of ducks important to Minnesota hunters, is very good this year based on spring populations surveys,” Cordts said.
Youth waterfowl day
Youth Waterfowl Day will be Saturday, Sept. 12. Hunters ages 15 and under may take regular season bag limits when accompanied by an adult age 18 or older. Youth may take Canada geese, mergansers, coots and moorhens from a half-hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. Motorized decoy restrictions are in effect. Five geese may be taken statewide. The accompanying adult can’t hunt ducks that day and does not need a license. However, an adult may take Canada geese if properly licensed.
Canada goose seasons and limits
Canada goose hunting is open in the three duck zones, and also in an intensive harvest zone. For a map of the intensive zone and other information, see www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.
Sandhill crane season
- The August Canada goose management harvest is Saturday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Aug. 23, in the intensive harvest zone only. The bag limit is 10 per day. A $4 permit is required. This is the third year Canada goose harvest has been allowed during August due to high populations of Canada geese and the damage they cause to agricultural crops.
- The early September Canada goose season will open statewide on Saturday, Sept. 5, and run through Tuesday, Sept. 22. Bag limits for Canada geese are 10 per day in the intensive harvest zone and five per day in the rest of the state. A $4 permit is required to hunt Canada geese during the September season. The restriction prohibiting hunting within 100 yards of surface water remains in effect in the northwest goose zone, Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, Ocheda Lake Game Refuge and an area surrounding Swan Lake in Nicollet County. Early season goose hunters should consult the 2015 Waterfowl Supplement for zone maps and additional details.
- Minnesota’s regular goose season will open in conjunction with the duck season statewide on Sept. 26, with a bag limit of three dark geese per day the entire season. “Dark” geese include Canada geese, white-fronted geese, and brant. Goose season will be closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed.
The season for sandhill cranes is Saturday, Sept. 12, to Sunday, Oct. 18, in the northwest goose and sandhill crane zone only. The daily bag limit will be one sandhill crane per day. A $3 sandhill crane permit is required in addition to a small game hunting license.
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Minnesota’s wolf population remains stable
Population estimate similar to past 2 years and remains above state and federal thresholds
Results from the latest wolf population survey show no significant change in Minnesota’s wolf population during the past three winters, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The latest survey results estimate that within Minnesota’s wolf range there were 374 wolf packs and 2,221 wolves last winter. Although this year’s specific population estimate is lower than the previous winter’s estimate of 2,423 wolves, there has been no statistically significant change in population size during the past three years.
The population survey is conducted in mid-winter near the low point of the annual population cycle. Immediately following birth of pups each spring, the wolf population typically doubles, though many pups do not survive to the following winter.
“Results from the 2015 wolf survey demonstrate that the wolf population remains well established across northern and central Minnesota,” said Dan Stark, large carnivore specialist for the DNR.
Minnesota’s wolf population remains above the state’s minimum management goal of at least 1,600 wolves and is above the federal recovery goal of 1,251 to 1,400.
Although the population estimate was not significantly different from last year, wolf packs observed were slightly larger this winter than in previous years, increasing from an average of 4.4 to 5.1 wolves per pack. Also, wolf packs now appear to be using larger territories, with average territory size increasing from 58 square miles in 2014 to about 73 square miles last winter.
Because white-tailed deer are the primary food source for Minnesota’s wolves, the wolf population tends to follow deer population trends.
“When prey declines, wolves must eventually re-adjust to the new conditions, which typically means fewer packs and each utilizing a larger territory to meet nutritional demands and sustain a competitive pack size,” according to John Erb, DNR wolf research scientist.
These wolf population parameters are similar to those estimated during the winter survey of 1997-1998, which, like this survey, came on the heels of back-to-back severe winters and a reduced deer population, Erb said.
The DNR’s goal for wolf management, as outlined in the state’s wolf management plan, is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while addressing wolf-human conflicts. Wolves in Minnesota returned to the federal list of threatened species as a result of a Washington, D.C. federal district court ruling in December 2014.
Visit the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/wolves to find the full report, an FAQ and an overview of wolf management in the state, including the wolf management plan.
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DNR makes additional changes to attract national
bass fishing tournaments to Mille Lacs Lake
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources today announced an additional rule change that will help attract national bass fishing tournaments to Mille Lacs Lake – one of the top 10 bass fishing lakes in the country. National bass fishing tournaments could draw thousands of anglers to the region, benefiting resorts and businesses across the Mille Lacs Lake region.
“The new rule will allow catch-and-release tournaments to cull smallmouth bass regardless of size up to the statewide limit of six. We are not talking about all bass tournaments – the exemption in this rule is aimed at national and state caliber bass tournaments, which we are hoping would consider planning events on Mille Lacs Lake,” Landwehr said.
In an adjustment to a rule change announced earlier this week, the DNR will now allow anglers competing in catch-and-release bass tournaments on Mille Lacs Lake to possess and sort their catches, regardless of size. The previous rule allowed anglers to sort only bass that were smaller than 18 inches. The new rule, with the adjustment announced today, will also allow tournament anglers practicing catch-and-release to possess and sort fish that are larger than 18 inches, up to a full limit of six. Outside of catch-and-release tournament competition, bass anglers on Mille Lacs Lake will still be allowed to possess just one bass over 18 inches.
“We are continuing to respond to the economic needs of the Mille Lacs Lake area, and we have heard from tournament anglers that sorting larger fish would do even more to help attract large tournaments,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “Attracting several big-name catch-and-release bass tournaments to Mille Lacs will provide a lasting boost to the local economy.”
A difference of only a few ounces often determines the winner of a bass tournament. Having the ability to cull allows tournament anglers to keep the biggest fish that weigh the most. The tournament rule change is not expected to harm Mille Lacs bass populations or large fish because the fish caught and sorted in the tournaments are released into the lake once they are weighed. The new rule would only apply to a limited number of tournaments.
Mille Lacs Lake is one of the premiere bass fishing lakes in the country, ranked the 10th-best bass lake in the nation by Bassmaster Magazine. The lake is a world-class smallmouth bass fishery, attracting anglers from all around the United States in search of a lunker ready and willing to put up a fight. The lake also offers largemouth bass.
“Fishing is a major draw for out-of-state visitors, generating $2.8 billion in retail sales and 43,000 Minnesota jobs,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism. “Eliminating one of the hurdles to attracting more national bass fishing tournaments gives the Mille Lacs area another tool to draw national attention and help improve its economy.”
Anglers on other lakes in Minnesota already can sort bass that they catch.
Anglers not participating in tournaments will be allowed to keep only one bass 18 inches or longer. The new rule would not allow anglers to replace a bass 18 inches or longer even if a larger fish is caught later during that same trip. In addition, anglers could not cull bass once they have caught their limit of six. The no-cull rule will remain in effect for all other fish species on Mille Lacs Lake.
The new rule goes into effect in the next few weeks.
More information about bass fishing is available on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/fishmn
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