DNR Board Gives Agency More Flexibility With Fish Bag Limits

DNR Board Votes For Emergency Rule Despite objections From Ojibwe Tribal Chairman

The DNR recently raised bag limits for walleye on some lakes in the Ceded Territories. Photo: Tai Toh (CC-BY-NC).

The Department of Natural Resources Board has passed an emergency rule on Wednesday that could change how the state adjusts fish bag and size limits, in response to tribal spearfishing and sport angler harvest.

The DNR already has the authority to adjust the number of walleye and musky that sport anglers can harvest on Northern Wisconsin lakes depending on how the state’s Ojibwe tribes are doing in their spring off-reservation spearfishing. Though the spearfishing season is ongoing, last week, the DNR raised daily bag limits for walleye on 447 lakes.

The rule passed on Wednesday also lets the department take into account the anticipated number of fish taken by sport anglers this year.

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At the board’s meeting in Green Bay, Mole Lake Tribal Chairman Chris McGeshick criticized the rule and some of the language in DNR documents, particularly a sentence that said the rule was needed to promote the preservation and protection of public peace in the Ceded Territories.

“We have sport anglers out there harvesting right alongside tribal members out there spearing,” said McGeshick. “What type of abuse or conflict has been associated with that? I’ve heard none.”

McGeshick also says the tribes have not had a chance for input on the emergency rule. DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said the rule just tries to add more certainty to adjusting fish bag limits.

“I have been hearing for years, since the day I walked in the door at this job, of the impact of the roller coaster effect and the unpredictability and instability of swinging bag limits,” said Stepp. “We determined as part of our management system what that does to the tourism in the northern third of the state. And it is devastating.”

Stepp also said anglers wouldn’t want to head north if the daily bag limit on a lake is one fish, before the board passed the rule.