The Natural Resources Board granted the DNR the authority to look into alternative methods for managing walleye in the Ceded Territory at a meeting Wednesday, March 19.
Mike Staggs, DNR fisheries director, indicated that the action will allow fisheries managers to maintain some flexibility when it comes to rule changes.
“There isn’t really anything specifically proposed at this time,” Staggs said. “What the board did [Wednesday] is a procedural thing that they have to do if they wanted to preserve the option to make changes via emergency rules before the season opens.”
The DNR’s scope statement went before the board in what was a special meeting due to changes in the board’s meeting schedule.
The ability to make changes through emergency rule means the DNR can react quickly if conditions warrant a change. Staggs pointed out the spring of 2012 as an example.
“Two years ago, we had a really warm spring and as it turned out, the spearing for walleyes was largely over by opening day,” he said.
“We actually announced a set of bag limits and then readjusted them before the season even opened.”
Walleye bag limits in the Ceded Territory are initially set based on the number of walleyes the tribes declare in the spring. Later, they are readjusted based on actual tribal harvest.
NRB approval of the scope statement preserves the ability to make such moves right away.
“That’s the kind of thing that, in the past, kind of got our attention, that we better make sure that we are able to do an emergency rule, if there’s a reason to do it,” Staggs said.
“If we didn’t do this scope statement and somebody decided in April, ‘Hey, here’s a brilliant idea,’ or ‘Here’s some weird weather condition, maybe we could do this,’ it would be too late to do it. And that’s what people didn’t want. They didn’t want to close the door on that opportunity,” he added.
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp made a statement in the wake of the special NRB meeting.
“The department hopes to work together with our Chippewa tribal partners to explore a variety of potential alternatives for angler regulations to sustain a healthy walleye fishery, while meeting the needs of both state and tribal harvesters,” she said in a news release Wednesday.
“Any alternative management proposals will continue to respect Chippewa treaty rights, while also potentially applying updated scientific methods to manage walleye populations in the Ceded Territory and provide more certainty in walleye regulations for state anglers.”
Under treaties signed in the 1800s, Chippewa bands ceded 22,400 square miles across northern Wisconsin to the federal government while retaining off-reservation hunting and fishing privileges.
The ceded territory covers roughly the northern one-third of Wisconsin.
LdF sets 2014 walleye spearing limits
Following a Voigt Inter-Tribal Task Force meeting, LdF representative Scott Smith reported that the Tribe has increased the number of lakes to be speared this year to 273, according to a press release from the Tribe Thursday afternoon.
The release states that the Tribe has declared a total of 27,868 walleye and 886 musky, while the maximum safe walleye harvest for all six of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Tribes is calculated at 81,011, with the Tribes declaring 63,488.
As the release states, the Tribes have never taken the entire 100 percent of the number of fish declared, and the most the LdF Tribe has ever taken was 15,427 in 2012.
Harvest declarations are determined through several factors, such as spear and gill net numbers of fish taken from Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota, as well as the Tribe’s decision to venture to the inland waters of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to spear lakes near the Lac Vieux Desert and Keweenaw Bay Chippewa Reservations.
A total of 21 lakes in the Upper Peninsula in Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw and Marquette counties have been named for Tribal harvest.
“As Indian People, nothing matters more to us than the resources, as they provide sustenance for Tribal members and their families,” LdF Tribal President Tom Maulson said in the press release. “It is a common misnomer that if Indians have casino gaming, they are wealthy. This is a misconception. Smaller Tribes, such as Lac du Flambeau who live in remote areas, do not always enjoy the economic success needed to meet the general health and welfare needs of their community.
“We have lived for generations on the bounty of our natural resources and have successfully managed those resources for hundreds of years. Many of our Members retain their connection to the land and depend on the resources for their basic needs.”
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.