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Minocqua Chain could resume walleye harvest a year early


The Wisconsin DNR is considering an emergency rule to allow walleye harvest on the Minocqua Chain this year.

The chain of lakes in Oneida County has been catch and release only for nearly a decade and was meant to re-open to harvest in 2025.

The Minocqua Chain of lakes includes: Jerome lake, Kawaguesaga lake, Mid lake, Minocqua lake, Mud lake, Minocqua thoroughfare, Tomahawk thoroughfare, Little Tomahawk lake, Tomahawk lake, and connecting waters combined.

The Lac du Flambeau Tribe has declared its intent to harvest during the spear fishing season this spring, according to the DNR.

If that harvest occurs, the DNR wants to open the chain to the public for walleye harvest a year early.

Potential Emergency Rule

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board approved the first step to create an emergency rule that would allow a walleye harvest this year.

The board unanimously approved a scope statement for the emergency rule at its Wednesday meeting.

The board would need to meet again and approve the emergency rule for a harvest to happen and that would only occur if the Tribe harvests walleye on the chain this year.

“In the event that tribal take occurs, allowing a limited state harvest as well will promote fair and
equitable use of the walleye resource during the 2024 fishing season,” the scope statement reads.

The DNR expects it to be a one bag limit for walleye.

DNR Policy Initiatives Advisor Scott Loomans told the NRB at its Wednesday meeting that it’s a “pretty conservative” harvest.

“The goal of that is rehabilitation of the lake. So that would continue to be the goal if we do allow harvest this year,” said Loomans.

If the emergency rule does get approved, it would be temporary. The zero-bag limit for walleye on the Minocqua Chain was extended in 2021 to 2025.

Conserving Walleye

Rehabilitation of walleye on the Minocqua Chain has been ongoing.

The lakes used to have a good walleye population, but the DNR saw noticeable declines in the early 2000s.

DNR Fisheries Program Supervisor John Kubisiak says there’s not been a “smoking gun” as to why walleye population in the Minocqua Chain or elsewhere have been struggling. There are lakes in the region where populations are doing well and others where they’re not.

“We have ideas, of course, and there's certainly been some changes, but we haven't been able to say, ‘Yes, this is it. This is the one thing that's the problem,’” said Kubisiak.

On the Minocqua Chain, there’s been a stakeholder group that’s been working to conserve the walleye population.

That group includes the DNR, Walleyes for Tomorrow, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company, and three of the local lake associations.

They’ve tried to tackle the problem from multiple angles including stocking walleye, no harvesting walleye, improving walleye habitat, and no minimum length limit on bass harvest.

“We know bass abundance has increased dramatically out there. We can't prove that they're the cause, but they certainly compete and interact with walleye,” said Kubisiak.

It’s had mixed results. Kubisiak says they met their abundance goal on this project. The last survey showed above three adults per acre on the entire chain. The issue is natural reproduction. It’s not happening on the Minocqua Chain.

“The ultimate goal of stocking would be not to have to stock, to have enough adult fish out there that are reproducing successfully to maintain themselves. That's what our best walleye fisheries do, and on the Minocqua Chain that's just not happening,” said Kubisiak.

Kubisiak is still hopeful things will turn around, but at the end of the day there’s only so much human intervention can do.

“We can't make fish reproduce successfully just by sheer force of will, right? All we can do is create the conditions that we think are necessary, and make conditions as good as possible so that fish have the opportunity to recruit, to spawn and reproduce, and make it into the population. But at the end of it mother nature still has a big role to play in there and has to make that happen,” said Kubisiak.

Whether or not the emergency rule goes into effect this year, walleye harvest on the Minocqua Chain is scheduled to re-open in spring of 2025.

Kubisiak says current regulations would allow for a one fish daily bag limit with length restrictions.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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