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Wisconsin reduces bag limits for walleye in north

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on Monday announced that it has reduced daily walleye bag limits to one fish on 173 lakes in northern Wisconsin for the upcoming fishing season.

That’s in response to last month’s annual tribal walleye harvest declarations by the six bands of Chippewa in northern Wisconsin. The bands said in March they intend to spear a record 63,488 walleyes during the annual spring harvest.

Additional lakes will have limits of two or three walleyes per day this season. After the actual spearing harvest is recorded, bag limits may be adjusted again, typically in May. The standard daily bag limit is five walleyes.

“Once the spring spearing season concludes, the DNR expects the number of lakes that are set at a one-bag limit will be significantly reduced as has been past practice,” DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said in a news release Monday.

The actual walleye harvest is typically about half of the declaration. In 2013, for example, the tribes declared 59,399 walleyes and harvested 28,447, according to Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission data.

The Chippewa spear walleyes on lakes throughout northern Wisconsin every spring under rights they reserved in treaties in the 1800s. Those treaties allow tribal members to hunt, fish, and gather off their reservations on land they ceded in the agreements — about the northern third of the state. Federal courts have affirmed those rights.

The state adjusts bag limits in an effort to keep the combined tribal and sport harvest within a “safe limit” on each body of water.

Stepp said Monday that the agency is taking steps — including stocking and habitat improvements — to improve walleye numbers in the state.

“We are confident that our long-term efforts will yield less fluctuation and more consistency with bag limits while still effectively managing and protecting the resource for all to enjoy,” Stepp said.

Between 1997 and 2012, no more than 10 lakes a year had been declared at spearing levels that would result in a one-walleye bag limit for recreational anglers. This year the number is 197. The standard daily bag limit is five walleyes.

The annual harvest by the tribes is a fraction of the total harvest from lakes in the ceded territory. According to DNR estimates, 260,000 to 300,000 walleyes were harvested each year (2008-12) by sport anglers from lakes declared in the ceded territory.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.