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Pioneer Editorial: Celebrating the return of R.L. walleye

This week marks the annual celebration of the start of Minnesota's fishing season. But this year takes on new meaning as the return of the walleye is celebrated in Lower and Upper Red Lake.

After the walleye fishery collapsed, both the state of Minnesota and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa wisely imposed a moratorium on walleye harvesting in 1997. For the band, it meant an end to commercial fishing, done by band members with gill nets, and hook-and-line fishing by non-band members on that portion of Upper Red Lake under state regulation.

Thankfully, through an immense amount of cooperation, the lakes were restocked with walleye and the fishery has been restored. As a result, walleye fishing is now reopened -- several years earlier than anticipated.

Band members got to fish for walleye with hook and line last weekend, while non-band members can go at it Saturday as part of Minnesota's general fishing opener.

Now comes the need to continue that cooperation to ensure that the Red Lake walleye fishery is never again depleted, that band and non-band members can enjoy the walleye on the lakes for many generations to come.

While the limits are different, it needs to be made clear that harvest quotas are equal, that both band and non-band members equally share in the walleye harvest to ensure it is sustainable. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa controls 83 percent of the lakes, so it has 83 percent of the sustainable harvest, or 531,000 pounds, while non-band members may harvest 108,000 pounds on the 17 percent of Upper Red Lake the state controls. Likewise, limits are set at two walleye for band members because of the anticipated pressure of thousands of anglers, while band members may take 10 walleye because a finite number of reservation members -- nowhere near the numbers of non-band anglers -- will fish on reservation waters. Walleye protection slots will also help preserve the fishery.

The importance of adhering to those protections can't be underscored enough. That's why both state and reservation conservation officers will be out in full force to provide enforcement, and why the fishing public -- band and non-band -- should support those efforts by following the rules and reporting those who do not. Special Turn-In-Poachers lines are now available for both jurisdictions.

We're lucky. It's not often that an ecosystem once destroyed is renewed, let alone with the promise of being even better than before. The cooperation of a host of individuals and groups, including resorters and businesses in Waskish who now will reap the benefit of such cooperation, is to be thanked.

But it's also clear that without the guidance of the state's Henry Drewes and the tribe's Al Pemberton, doing their jobs for their respective Departments of Natural Resources, much of what people experienced last week and this Saturday would never have come about.

Now it's up to all of us to make sure the fishery stays healthy and abundant.