MINNEAPOLIS — The Department of Natural Resources named 17 people to its new Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee on Tuesday and a new point person for the state agency's stepped-up efforts to revive the lake's struggling walleye population.
The advisory committee members represent a range of angling, local business and tourism interests, including some sharp critics of how the DNR has managed the popular lake. They also include three county commissioners from the area, a University of Minnesota researcher who led an outside review that backed up the agency's research on Mille Lacs, and a representative from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, which has treaty rights to a share of the big lake's fish.
Recently retired DNR fisheries official Roger Hugill will fill the newly created post of project leader and be the "public face" of the agency's new approach toward Mille Lacs, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr told reporters on a conference call. Hugill was formerly the DNR's Hinckley area fisheries supervisor and will attend the advisory committee's first meeting Thursday, the commissioner said.
Landwehr also said DNR officials plan to announce later this month whether to allow ice fishing for walleyes on Mille Lacs this winter.
The walleye decline has been so severe that the agency took the unprecedented step of shutting the season down in early August after anglers exceeded the lake's harvest limit for the year, a blow to businesses that were already struggling under tight restrictions.
Researchers are analyzing data from netting conducted last month to get an up-to-date picture of the lake's fish populations, Landwehr said. A technical committee of DNR and tribal fisheries officials will meet Oct. 15-16 to review that data and estimate the "safe harvest level" for the lake's walleyes. Then they'll consult with the new advisory committee in the week of Oct. 19 on how to allocate that harvest between the upcoming ice fishing season and the 2016 open water season.
The DNR will then announce its decisions sometime in the last week of October, he said.
Committee member Eddie Lyback, owner of Lyback's Marine and Lyback's Ice Fishing in Isle, said he's encouraged by Hugill's appointment.
"He's a highly respected common-sense person, and I think he would make a very good representative," Lyback said.
Some DNR critics named to the panel said they're taking a wait-and-see attitude toward whether their voices will be heard. But Bill Eno, a co-owner of Twin Pines Resort near Garrison who helped lead an unsuccessful lawsuit against the DNR last year, also said he's going in with an open mind.
"I know we've got a problem to solve and I certainly want to be part of the solution," Eno said. "What has been going on hasn't been working, so hopefully we can open up some new doors and try to return this lake to where it was."