July 13, 2008

Red Lake Band Nears Halfway Point to Annual Walleye Quota

By Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.

Jul. 13--By Brad Dokken

Herald Staff Writer

Members of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa have harvested 373,000 pounds of walleyes on Lower Red Lake and tribal waters of Upper Red Lake since Dec. 1, records show.

According to Pat Brown, fisheries biologist for the Red Lake Department of Natural Resources, most of the tribal members are fishing for the band's commercial fishery.

Fishing is restricted to hook-and-line, and the tribe's annual quota is 820,000 pounds, Brown said. Members can use an unlimited number of lines, and the daily commercial bag limit is 75 walleyes, Brown said. Tribal regulations require the release of all walleyes from 20 inches to 28 inches.

Brown said the commercial fish plant in Redby, Minn., only accepts fish Mondays through noon Fridays. Typically, he said, band members who fish commercially pick up special coolers, which serve as permits, from the fishery.

All walleyes must be sold through the fishery to be legal, Brown said. The band contracts with a handful of wholesalers, along with a few retail outlets in Bemidji, he said.

The policy is in place to discourage the sale of walleyes on the black market, which is cited as one of the reasons Red Lake's walleye population collapsed in the 1990s.

"We're in this together, and we hear things about people black-marketing fish," Brown said. "But if people off the reservation aren't buying, then we don't have a problem."

In the wake of the walleye collapse, the tribe and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, signed off on a recovery plan in April 1999. The effort included a moratorium on walleye harvest and massive stocking efforts in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

Red Lake's walleye population quickly rebounded, and walleye fishing in state and tribal waters reopened in 2006. The band resumed its commercial fishery last year.

Brown said there's been a learning curve with the hook-and-line approach to commercial fishing since walleye fishing resumed, but people are becoming more adept at catching fish both summer and winter.

There is no netting as part of the tribe's commercial fishery, and the hook-and-line technique appears to have widespread support among band members.

"Fishermen are saying, 'Let's give us a chance to do it this way,' " Brown said.

Brown said the delayed onset of summer kept walleyes closer to shore and helped fishing success. As a result, he said, the band is nearly halfway to its annual quota.

"That's a lot more than I felt we would take hook and line, but guys are having a good time doing it, and they're starting to learn where the fish are and getting more effective at catching them," Brown said.

Reach Dokken at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to [email protected]


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