Perserverance yields substantial treaty harvest
By Sue Erickson, Staff Writer
Odanah, Wis.—An unprecedented early spring sent creel teams, fishermen and fisheries assessment crews scrambling for gear as lakes across the ceded territory began opening nearly a month before expected. Mille Lacs Lake's official 2012 ice-out date was March 26—the earliest on record. The average date for the lake's ice out is April 25.
Similarly in Wisconsin treaty spearing began on March 22 with Lac du Flambeau fisherman harvesting 416 walleye from lakes in Lincoln, Oneida, Price and Vilas counties and St. Croix spearers harvesting 73 walleye from St. Croix and Washburn county lakes. In Michigan, treaty spearing began on March 23 with members of the Lac Vieux Desert Tribe harvesting 131 walleye from 6 lakes in Gogebic and Iron counties.
Mille Lacs Band members opened the netting season on Mille Lacs Lake on March 28, and Bad River members also brought in a limited harvest with spears on that night. As of May 1, 2012, tribal fisherman from all eight bands harvested 78,658.5 pounds of walleye from a quota of 142,500 pounds and 10,967.2 pounds of northern from a quota of 15,000 pounds from Mille Lacs Lake. This represents 55% percent of the declared quota of walleye.
In Mille Lacs Lake tribal harvest has never exceed the allocation, which is determined on the basis of state and tribal population models; whereas, the state has exceeded its allocation several times between 1997 and 2007. From 2008-2011 state fishermen stayed well below their allocation.
In Wisconsin tribal spearers brought in 32,289 walleye from a quota of 54,057 and 323 muskellunge from a declared quota of 2,180. This harvest falls just below the 2010 record walleye spearing of 34,156 walleye, and ranks #2 in the years since 1985.
Despite the early start-up and record high temperatures, the season was chilly and windy for the most part. High winds and rough water required the closing of some Mille Lacs Lake landings on several nights during the season.
The early dramatic temperature fluctuations left lakes ice free, but the water temperature may not have warmed sufficiently to entice spawning, resulting in some low yields early on. Checking out lakes, waiting, returning if necessary—all were part of a season that required perseverance to bring in the harvest.
Lakes & landings alive as spring season breaks early
The early start of the spring treaty fishing season meant that GLIFWC personnel, including creel teams and enforcement staff, needed to be on open landings ready to monitor the harvest on a daily/nightly basis several weeks earlier than usual. So preparation to provide coverage on landings throughout the treaty ceded territory went into high gear in mid-March. This involves, hiring, equipping and briefing numerous seasonal staff brought aboard to help monitor the spring spearing and netting harvest.
Meanwhile, in the office, permanent staff also readied for the season's marathon that brings a daily influx of effort and harvest data from both netting and spearing. A daily record includes the total number and pounds of walleye, northern pike, and other species of fish harvested by each tribe from Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota. Nightly spearing harvests are also tallied for Wisconsin and Michigan ceded territory lakes to track the treaty harvest by lake and tribe on a daily basis. Each day, this information is used to update quota balances for individual lakes and determine whether or not any additional treaty harvest can take place.
Annual walleye quotas are determined after both state and tribal biologists collect and consider data from spring and fall assessments and produce models for lakes without recent estimates of population abundance. In both Minnesota and Wisconsin, GLIFWC biologists work with state biologists to determine lake quotas each year.
In the spring of 2012, GLIFWC crews covered the shores of 23 lakes in Wisconsin
and one lake in Michigan.
Conducting population assessments was challenging in 2012 due to an early ice-out and drawn out spawning period. Biologists hypothesize that initially the fish were not ready to come into shore even though the ice was out.
Besides being used to determine harvest quotas, annual assessments provide insight into the health of a lake's fishery. "Regular spring and fall surveys allow for early detection of potential problems with a lake's walleye population such as declining adult abundance or failed recruitment," says GLIFWC Inland Fisheries Biologist Mark Luehring.
The 2012 spring fishing season was a long haul for staff who maintained daily/nightly vigils at landings throughout the long season. Oftentimes, spearfishing stretches into the wee hours of the morning before the creel crew can finally dim the kerosene lamp, pack up the fish measuring board, gather their records and head home. For netting, with net sets in the evening and pulls in the morning, landing crews are only given short breaks before returning to work day after day through the season. In the office, the data team worked straight through weekends making sure all harvest figures were current.
The spring season is a marathon effort on the part of all who participate, both staff and tribal fishermen. It is good to enjoy a successful harvest and through intensive monitoring ensure resources for seasons to come.
Chi miigwech to all who participated in the 2012 season!