Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp said Monday Chippewa tribes in northern Wisconsin are setting spearing levels that will mean more one-walleye lakes for sport anglers.
As a result, the WDNR will withhold funds previously paid to the tribe.
For the tribal ceded territory covering the northern third of the state, a DNR analysis indicates out of 535 lakes named for tribal harvests, 197 have been designated by the tribe at a level that will result in one-walleye daily bag limits for anglers.
While most lakes in Iron County, including the Gile Flowage, will have two-walleye limits for sport anglers, Pine Lake will be a one-walleye body of water.
Other waters named for one-walleye bag limits include the Three Lakes Chain, part of the Eagle Chain and a number of popular walleye fisheries in northwestern Wisconsin, Stepp said.
Of the remaining 338 waters declared for spearing, 331 will have a two-walleye daily bag limit, and seven will have a three-walleye daily bag limit.
Stepp wasn’t pleased with the development and said the Lac du Flambeau tribe’s spearing goals terminate a 16-year agreement with the DNR and will result in a cut-off of funds to the tribe.
While the number of lakes declared for spearing is similar to past years, the percent of the lakes at one-walleye bag limits is much higher than usual, Stepp said.
Stepp noted the tribes do not always take as many fish as they declare and when that happens, angler bag limits on individual lakes are readjusted when spearing activity diminishes, based on the percentage of walleyes taken.
The Lac du Flambeau tribe has named 232 of 233 total lakes at a two-fish daily bag limit, while they had previously been set at a a three-bag limit as part of a long-standing agreement between the DNR and Lac du Flambeau.
Stepp said the Lac du Flambeau tribe’s unprecedented change in declarations “effectively terminated the 16-year agreement.”
Under the agreement, the tribe received $84,500 from the state to maintain the three-walleye bag limit. It also received revenues generated through sales of snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle and fishing license sales on the reservation. “Based on the tribe’s breach of the agreement, the DNR has no choice but to withhold the payment and the license revenue,” Stepp said.
“The Chippewa tribes are acting lawfully within their treaty rights, however, over the past 10 years we have seen a maximum of 10 lakes declared at one time for one-walleye bag limits. This drastic increase in lakes named at a one-walleye bag limit is significant, unprecedented, and a challenge to long-standing partnerships,” Stepp said.
She said the increased declarations don’t endanger the fisheries because the DNR manages them to protect from overharvests.
Stepp said the DNR will work with the tribes to negotiate reductions in their fish spearing declarations.