The state sets bag limits for non-tribal anglers to offset the number of fish taken by the tribes. Last year, it was one walleye per day on 197 lakes, and Monday's announcement said there'll be 173 lakes with that one-fish quota.
But the restrictions still sparked criticism from one tourism-minded lawmaker and threatened to rekindle tensions over treaty rights that cede considerable decision-making power to the tribes.
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which oversees the Chippewa's off-reservation rights, set a goal last month of 63,488 walleyes - 6 percent more than the previous record of 59,659 set in 2010. Historically, the tribes have taken only about half of their quota, so the DNR increases the bag limit in response.
A similar situation could play out this year, but until that happens, 173 lakes will have a one-walleye daily limit, 363 with a two-fish limit and two lakes will have a limit of three, the state Department of Natural Resources said. That's 905 walleyes if the limits are reached, more than last year's 880.
The DNR determines bag limits using a formula that takes into account both the tribes' goals and the overall walleye population. The process dates back to the 1800s, when the federal government signed treaties granting the Chippewa the right to hunt and fish in millions of northern Wisconsin acres. The tribes generally begin spearing as soon as winter ice melts and continue until spawning ends in mid-May.
Commission spokeswoman Sue Erickson said this year's goal is high in part because the tribes have less access to a popular Minnesota lake than they had in previous years. She also noted that many northern lakes are still iced over, meaning the season could be substantially shorter.
One Republican lawmaker from Neenah wasn't pleased by the DNR's limits. Rep. Dean Kaufert, chairman of the Assembly's tourism committee, said sports fishermen who face a one-walleye limit might decide to stay home, keeping their tourism dollars with them.
"This is not going to be good for filling up hotel rooms, lodges, restaurants," he said.
Fishing limits have been a source of tension since the 1980s, when non-tribal anglers staged racial protests that included rock-throwing and fake Native American heads impaled on pikes.
Tensions flared anew last spring after the Chippewa, upset with Republican lawmakers for establishing a new wolf hunt and relaxing certain mining standards, raised their 2013 goal to 59,399. That was an increase of 5,342 fish from the previous year.
The DNR reacted by imposing one-fish bag limits on nearly 200 lakes and two-fish limits on more than 300 others.
Kaufert threatened to rescind a $250,000 grant for the Lac du Flambeau tribe, and the then-chairman of the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe countered by accusing the DNR of spreading propaganda that the bag limits were the only thing standing between walleyes and extinction.
The DNR says it's taking steps to ward off conflict in coming years by increasing the general walleye population through better stocking techniques and habitat improvements.
DNR description of walleye bag limits: http://1.usa.gov/1jxx3mT
Limits by county and lake: http://1.usa.gov/1jxxbCS
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