Dayton: Mille Lacs walleye woes require special session

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DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is proposing a

special legislative session in August to consider an emergency

financial aid package for resorts and other businesses in the Lake

Mille Lacs area. But House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, says he

thinks it may be too early to talk about bringing back the

Legislature.

Dayton is concerned about the economic

hit that the popular fishing destination will suffer if state

officials close the walleye season early due to a dwindling fish

population. He discussed the idea with Daudt and Senate Majority

Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, on July 28, and they agreed to the

following week to begin planning.

No decisions have been made, but Dayton

told reporters on July 29 that the state assistance could include

zero interest loans, property tax abatements and additional tourism

promotion. He said “time is of the essence” to address a

potentially “catastrophic” situation.

“We need to get the loan program

under way,” Dayton said. “The resorts up there need working

capital so they can pay their employees and just keep open,

especially if the walleye fishing has to be closed beginning next

week.”

Before a special session area

legislators, lawmakers who oversee natural resource issues and state

commissioners should meet to talk about the problem and ways to

respond, Daudt told MPR News.

“We’re very concerned about the

situation. We want to make sure we do what’s right by these

resorts. We don’t want to see them suffering because of this

closing of the season early,” Daudt said. “But we also want to

make sure we’re doing the right thing. And we want to look at all

options.”

Dayton met on July 29 in St. Paul with

Mille Lacs area officials and business owners. He plans to visit the

area later in the week.

Dayton said he does not believe the

decline in walleye is related to American Indian fishing on the lake,

but he raised concerns about the tribal practice of gill netting

during spawning season, which is allowed under longstanding treaties.

The governor said he also has concerns

about the negative attitudes many Mille Lacs area residents have

about the DNR, and its management of the lake.

“I think we all need to pull together

now and try some things that have been resisted before and see that

we’re all in this together, the tribes as well as the resorters and

others there,” he said. “Everybody is affected by this drastic

situation regarding the walleye population, and rather than pointing

fingers, we need to be pulling together and seeing what we can do to

turn this situation around.”

Dayton isn’t ruling out action on

lake management measures, but he stressed that his priority for the

special session is immediate aid to businesses.

Following the meeting at the governor’s

residence, resort owner Tina Chapman talked about her concerns.

“We’re worried that what’s going

on now isn’t working; what the DNR is doing isn’t working. We

need to make some changes to fix the health of the lake,” she said.

Other industry representatives also

weighed in.

Joel Carlson, a lobbyist for the

Congress of Minnesota Resorts, said he’s pleased that state leaders

are ready to help.

“Mille Lacs is one of the most

popular walleye fisheries in the state and in the country. So

certainly when you restrict fishing on that lake it’s going to have

economic consequences, and not just for resorts.”

Dayton and Daudt said a special session

would also include state assistance for the Brainerd area, which was

hit hard by heavy storms two weeks ago.

 

MPR News reporter

Tom Scheck contributed to this report.

Minnesota Public Radio News can

be heard on MPR’s statewide radio network or online at

www.mprnews.org.