U professor to assess lake

The DNR appointed 17 members to assess Lake Mille Lacs’ fishing quota.

by Eliana Schreiber

The walleye population in Lake Mille Lacs is on the decline, but officials and experts are hoping to turn the tide on this important resource for Minnesota’s tourism economy. 
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources appointed a group of 17 experts earlier this month — including resort owners and a University of Minnesota professor — to help assess the lake’s fishing quota.
The group’s creation comes after the DNR closed the lake in August because anglers exceeded the walleye quota by 2,000 pounds.
Brad Parsons, the DNR’s central regions fisheries manager, said the department was looking for a small yet diverse group for the committee, which includes business owners and local elected officials. 
Parsons said the committee is an opportunity for members to give their input on the DNR’s management of the lake.
“They can ask us for information; we can provide it, but it’s really about discussing, on a face-to-face basis, these challenges and important opportunities that we have coming,” he said.
The upcoming winter season is one of the biggest challenges the committee will face, Parsons said.
The committee will determine what kind of fish harvesting, if any, will be allowed this winter, he said.
Paul Venturelli, a fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology professor, said anglers exceeded the quota in July, which is dangerous to the walleye population.
A winter season, he said, would be irresponsible and could seriously impact the fish population. 
“Right now there’s a lot of acrimony, and people are understandably upset, but we’re not all on the same page,” Venturelli said.
Over the last several years, he has been overseeing the management of Mille Lacs as a part of a separate DNR panel.
As a part of the panel, Venturelli and other scientists interpreted DNR data and created recommendations for future management of the lake.
The recommendations included less fishing and making sure the public is wary of the types of fish they are taking, Venturelli said.
Based on the data, one of the proposed causes of the declining walleye population is that older walleye are eating younger ones in Lake Mille Lacs, he said.
Venturelli said he hopes the public will eventually better understand the problem and the recommendations. 
Paul Koering, the Crow Wing County commissioner and a member of the committee, said the group is trying to do whatever is necessary to help the lake’s fish population.
The committee is still in the beginning stages of gathering information, Koering said.
He said people in Crow Wing County and the surrounding counties are concerned about the issue and care about the lake’s future. 
“We want to see the lake be successful,” he said.
The panel will meet at the end of the month, Parsons said, and plans to meet quarterly.