LAKE VERMILION— A handful of Fond du Lac Band members were up early in recent days to collect their fishing nets here, as part of the Band’s exercise of fishing rights guaranteed under the 1854 …
LAKE VERMILION— A handful of Fond du Lac Band members were up early in recent days to collect their fishing nets here, as part of the Band’s exercise of fishing rights guaranteed under the 1854 Treaty. The annual harvest, which was cancelled last year due to a late ice-out, went ahead as usual this year with a maximum allowable harvest of 2,500 pounds of walleye.
It’s doubtful that the eight or nine band members taking part in the harvest will actually take that many fish. In 2017, Fond du Lac band members harvested just 282 pounds of walleye. Their largest harvest, to date, was in 2016, when band members tallied 1,757 pounds of walleye on the lake’s west end.
Band members are allowed to deploy just two nets apiece and they do so under the supervision of the band’s fisheries staff, who carefully track the harvest. Fond du Lac biologist Brian Borkholder and his crew set up their weigh station and recording operation at the Hoodoo Point public access this year. Band members set their nets at night and must pull them early each morning during the brief harvest period, which normally lasts no more than a few days. Fond du Lac staff are waiting each morning at the landing to assess and record the results. “We’ll be measuring every single fish,” said Borkholder. They typically work at public landings, both for convenience and so anyone from the public can come and observe their operation. “We have nothing to hide,” said Borkholder.
While the Fond du Lac reservation is located near Cloquest, Borkholder said most of the band members participating in this year’s harvest on Lake Vermilion live on the East Range. “Only two are from the Cloquet area,” he noted.
While treaty right netting has generated some controversy in other parts of Minnesota, mostly in the 1837 treaty zone, it has remained relatively uncontroversial on Lake Vermilion. The band’s limit of 2,500 pounds, for one thing, is less than four percent of the allowable annual harvest set for the lake by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
As of Wednesday morning, the 18-20 nets deployed by band members have caught 1,200 pounds of walleye and assorted other fish, and Borkholder said he expected a few band members to be back out for one more try Wednesday night, although incoming weather, including snow, could put a damper on that.
Declining interest in fish netting, particularly among younger band members, means that band members rarely take anywhere near the limits that tribal officials set on the various lakes they designate each year for harvest.
Last year, for example, Fond du Lac declared harvest on 15 lakes in the 1854 treaty area, with a combined allowable take of 14,488 pounds of walleye. In fact, they harvested just 116 pounds.
In 2017, the band’s annual declaration included 13 lakes and a declared limit of 9,963 pounds of walleye, yet band members harvested just 318 pounds.