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PierBridge

Four-fish bag possible in July

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DNR Reports

St. Paul - Walleye regs on state waters of Red Lake could be relaxed in July as the Minnesota DNR announced Tuesday that this year's walleye harvest is well under the safe harvest level.

Nonband anglers harvested 124,000 pounds of walleye during open water and winter seasons this year, well within the safe harvest level of 168,000 pounds. Since walleye fishing resumed in May 2006 after a seven-year closure, special regulations have been in place to comply with a joint harvest agreement between the Red Lake Band and the DNR.

'We're very pleased that our conservative approach in this first year of angling was successful in managing angler harvest within the safe harvest level, said Gary Barnard, DNR Bemidji-area fisheries supervisor. 'This presents an opportunity to consider relaxed regulations during next summer's open water season.'

A citizen advisory group recommended that, if possible, harvest should be allocated equally between winter and open-water angling seasons, or 84,000 pounds per season.

Summer harvest estimates were near 54,000 pounds, with the majority of the harvest occurring in May and June. Fishing pressure and catch rates declined dramatically in July and for the remainder of the open-water season, a common trend on many Minnesota walleye fisheries. Total fishing pressure for the open-water season was estimated at just below 200,000 angler hours.

'We had some concerns going into the winter season since Upper Red Lake has a history of high winter pressure and winter catch rates typically do not decline as in the summer fishery,' Barnard said.

Winter angling pressure was considerably higher than the summer period, ending up at nearly 700,000 angler-hours. Longer average trip lengths contributed to an exceptionally high pressure estimate - due largely to the popularity of overnight sleeper houses. Still, total winter harvest was contained at about 70,000 pounds, within the established safe harvest level.

There is no doubt that without the two-fish daily bag limit and the 17- to 26-inch protected slot, winter harvest would have greatly exceeded the safe harvest level, possibly forcing a mid-season closure, Barnard said.

Rules are currently in place to allow a change to a four-fish daily bag limit on July 14, if total winter harvest plus May-June harvest are less than 134,000 pounds. If that change occurs, the limit automatically would revert back to two fish on Dec. 1, 2007, for the following winter season.

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