Mille Lacs safe walleye harvest level to remain the same as 2019; businesses upset

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with eight Chippewa bands, have kept the 2020 walleye harvest limit at the same amount as 2019 for Mille Lacs Lake: 150,000 pounds.

Licensed anglers will be able to harvest 87,800 pounds of walleye. The Chippewa bands that retain fishing rights will be able to harvest a 62,200-pound limit.

DNR Fisheries Section Manager Brad Parsons told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the walleye harvest limit is not an easy decision, but it is done with the future of the fish population in mind.

"We want to provide as much opportunity as possible on the lake for everyone," Parsons said. "But we have to make sure we balance that with the long-term health of the walleye population."

Parsons said there will be a count of the walleye ice fishing harvest after the winter season ends in February, and that will help determine what the summer regulations will be on Mille Lacs Lake.

Mille Lacs walleye anglers can keep 1 fish this winter

Word of the 2020 harvest limit being set the same as the 2019 limit is not sitting well with many businesses that depend heavily on walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake.

Wyatt Jensen is a fishing guide and manages Trailside Bait and Tackle in Isle. He told KSTP the new limits are like a "kick in the gut" for the local economy.

"We will probably see another walleye catch-and-release summer season up here," Jensen said. "And if that happens, not as many people make the trip up here, which means we sell less bait and lures, less gas at the pump, less food, and it just hurts everyone and it's stupid."

Jensen said the time he has spent guiding on Mille Lacs Lake has given him a firsthand look at how well the walleye populations is doing and he says he has not seen a decline.

"When I go out guiding on Mille Lacs, there is a ton of fish and there are more than enough walleye," Jensen said. "There are big fish, little fish — you name it — and it is being caught out here. And the walleye limit just does not make sense to me and a lot of other people."

The DNR regulations, which determine how many — if any — walleye will be allowed to be taken out of Mille Lacs Lake this summer, will likely come out in late March.