ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Stringent fishing rules imposed on Mille Lacs Lake last year to try to reverse the decline of the popular lake's walleye population did not violate the state constitution, the Minnesota Court of Appeals determined.
A three-judge panel on Tuesday rejected arguments raised by a group of Mille Lacs resorts, property owners and anglers that the Department of Natural Resources failed to consider a 1998 constitutional amendment protecting the state's fishing and hunting heritage when it wrote the rules. The court ruled that the DNR acted within its authority, even though it didn't cite the amendment when it formulated the rules.
Erick Kaardal, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the ruling means the amendment is worthless without a statute specifically requiring the DNR to apply it. So he said his clients will ask the Legislature to require the DNR to explicitly consider the amendment when it adopts any rules. He said they will also review the rules for the upcoming fishing season when they come out.
The DNR is expected to issue those regulations in March. Last year's rules included a night fishing ban, a daily two-fish walleye limit and a restriction allowing anglers to only keep walleyes between 18 and 20 inches.
"It's clear the court felt we were following our statutory authority," DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said. "The agency is dedicated to preserving the values set forth in the constitutional amendment, and that means using good science to set the fishing limits."
Niskanen noted that a panel of walleye experts that reviewed the DNR's management of the lake concluded last month that its science was sound.
Biologists aren't certain why the lake's walleye population is declining, but say a combination of clearer and warmer water appears to be a major factor.