ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has drawn up a restocking plan for walleye in Lake Mille Lacs, a step that hasn't been taken before on the iconic lake.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Thursday if the agency moves ahead, some initial actions could be taken this year to capture eggs that would be taken to a hatchery and stocking could begin in spring. Gov. Mark Dayton said he supports an "all-out stocking" program to help improve the walleye population in the massive lake.
"I'm for everything that can reasonably put walleye back in that lake and grow walleye in that lake and do so as soon as possible," Dayton said at a news conference.
The DNR closed the walleye fishing season on Mille Lacs on Monday because a harvest quota had been exceeded. It's a potential blow to tourism in the area and has state leaders considering a special session to pass a business assistance package.
On Wednesday, some lawmakers urged the DNR to reopen the lake for at least catch-and-release walleye fishing. Dayton responded that such a course would pose legal problems with Minnesota Indian tribes that have netting rights and ecologic worries given that mortality rates rise for fish tossed back.
A legislative working group is due to reconvene late next week to consider possible assistance, from no-interest loans to property tax abatements to grants. Dayton called for quicker consideration so the state can offer a definitive answer about whether money is coming to resorts, bait shops and other businesses expecting a decline in customers and difficulty paying bills.
"The people up there don't need more uncertainty, they need help," Dayton said. "The challenge here is to rise to the situation and not to devolve into political posturing and finger-pointing."
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, a House GOP point person on the Mille Lacs issue, said Dayton's administration had yet to present a concrete economic-relief proposal and a long-term solution to the walleye decline.
"We must keep in mind that a solution must expand beyond financial aid," he said.
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