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Minnesota, Red Lake Band of Chippewa sign new fishery pact

RED LAKE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians and the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs have signed a new five-year agreement that outlines how they will work together to maintain the health of the Upper and Lower Red lakes fishery.

The agreement was signed Thursday during a brief ceremony in Red Lake.

The new memorandum of understanding closely parallels a 10-year agreement signed in April 1999 that helped restore high-quality walleye fishing to Minnesota's largest inland body of water. The agreement, among other things, states each entity will support the Red Lake Fisheries Technical Committee, a joint panel of experts that recommends policies and practices to maintain a healthy fishery.

"We've come a long way in the past decade," DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten said in a news release, noting that anglers have caught more than 1.1 million pounds of walleyes since the lake was reopened to fishing in 2006. "By renewing this agreement, we are reaffirming our commitment to a process that has delivered results."

Floyd Jourdain Jr., chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, echoed that sentiment.

"Red Lake Band members are pleased that our walleye have come back and our fishing community is revitalized," Jourdain said. "We are committed to ensuring that Red Lake walleye are managed sustainably in the future. Renewing this agreement will enable the Fisheries Technical Committee to continue its work to help protect this valuable resource."

According to Pat Brown, tribal fisheries biologist for the Red Lake DNR, quotas under the new agreement are basically the same as before. The band's annual quota in the harvest season that began Dec. 1 is 829,000 pounds, Brown said, while the Minnesota DNR has set a maximum harvest of 168,000 pounds for the 12-month period in state waters.

The goal, Brown said, is to manage for a population of mature female walleyes that ranges from 2 pounds to 3 pounds per acre. The population is in that range now, based on fisheries surveys, Brown said.

"The fish we are seeing are looking very healthy, he said. "We've got them all the way from age 0 up to age 8 and not too many gaps in there."

If surveys were to show a decline in spawning females, Brown said managers would reduce the harvest quotas. He said the band has harvested about 1.2 million to 1.5 million pounds of walleyes, in total, since fishing resumed in 2006.

According to Brown, the previous agreement was for 10 years because managers felt it would take that long for walleye populations to recover. Now that the walleyes are back, Brown said the two sides opted for a five-year agreement because 10 years seemed too long.

"This way we can review it every five years," he said.

Historically, Upper and Lower Red lakes were outstanding walleye fisheries, but they col-lapsed in the mid-1990s after years of over harvest in both state and tribal waters. The Red Lake Fisheries Technical Committee was formed in 1998. Since then, the regulations, poli-cies and other actions this joint body has recommended have led to a healthy walleye popu-lation and a resurgent walleye fishing economy.