The Lakeland Times

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Low voter turnout helps keep LdF's agreement with state
Worries of limit on walleye for hook-and-line anglers dismissed

Douglas Etten
Outdoors Writer

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

By just three votes, 95-92, Lac du Flambeau tribal members upheld the long-standing agreement the tribe has had with the state that in effect helps set the number of fish speared from area lakes and thus the bag limits for hook-and-line anglers.

The long-standing issue over spearing harvest numbers and improved access between Lac du Flambeau spearers and tribal representatives sparked little interest among the tribal membership last week as evidenced by the number of voters who turned out Thursday to consider the question.

The question put to tribal members was to maintain or eliminate the agreement with the State of Wisconsin that governs spearing totals - an agreement that helps regulate fish being taken by spearers from Oneida, Price, Vilas and Iron county lakes.

Though Lac du Flambeau tribal president Carl Edwards admits the issue has been a contentious one, the low voter turnout was not a shock. Nor was the margin by which it passed, 95 yes, 92 no.

"I am not surprised that this passed by only three votes," Edwards said. "I understand there are some problems with the agreement, and some tribal members want more fish.

"The agreement is 12 years old, and we feel it is out of touch and not reflective of the current needs of our membership. It continues to be our position that the tribe and the DNR need to review and revise this agreement every five-to-seven years. We will continue to push for improved access and increased harvest for our membership."

The current agreement between the state and tribe was signed back in April 1997 between then-DNR secretary George Meyer and then-tribal president Tom Maulson.

That agreement allows bag limits for hook and line fishermen to be set by the state. Those limits were determined by the safe harvest predictions and not allowed to drop below three fish per day.

No agreement - no guaranteed three walleye bag limit for fishermen.

Edwards acknowledged the importance of a working agreement that benefits both parties. He said the focus needs to remain on what is in the best interest for the Lac du Flambeau band as a whole.

"One of the main purposes of the agreement is public relations," Edwards said in a letter to the tribal membership last month. "We are in bad economic times and we need all of our businesses to produce revenues in order to get through this economic downturn."

In addition to the lost money in tourism that Edwards and other LdF leaders fear would have been inevitable had there been a change in bag limits, the tribe would have also sacrificed profits from tribal licenses that the state currently allows the tribe to keep.

When the tribe first entered into the agreement, the tribal membership passed a referendum to do so. By approving the contract with the state, area lakes outside reservation boundaries maintained the three walleye bag limit in return for the LdF band being recognized as a sovereign nation.

In turn, it allowed the sale of tribal and state fishing licenses within the boundaries of the reservation.

Funds gathered through license sales from 2006-08 was $50,000 annually. Those funds are used directly toward management of reservation fisheries.

Agreement rules

Tribes must declare by March 15 which lakes they intend to spear and the specific number of walleye they intend to take. The state then takes a comparative look at the safe catch percentage based on shock or historical data and adjusts bag limits accordingly.

All tribes in addition to LdF can then declare a percentage of up to nearly 90 percent of the allowable catch which indicates to the state how many walleye the spearers intend on taking from a specific lake.

The agreement between Flambeau and the state, however, changes things as the state officials are the ones who are setting the limits of available fish to spear, not the tribe themselves.

By doing that, they ensure that no more fish than what is allowable are taken in order to keep a three walleye per day bag limit.

Doug Etten can be reached via email at

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