- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Officials announced sweeping changes Thursday to preserve and restock the walleye population in rapid decline on a central Minnesota lake, an effort aimed at ensuring the lake’s long-term health and restoring trust with residents angered by the state’s decision to end the fishing season early.

The Department of Natural Resources said it intends to seek an estimated $3 million needed for a new fisheries facility around Mille Lacs Lake and it will bring on more staff to monitor the lake. Commissioner Tom Landwehr explained that Mille Lacs used to be managed by the Aitken-area office, but now management is being realigned. The DNR is currently recruiting a program leader to manage Mille Lacs.

The management shift will be paired with other measures including a new advisory panel to seek input from local businesses and anglers and a test-run of a stocking effort at the lake. DNR officials have previously frowned at the idea but said Thursday they would begin testing techniques to introduce young walleye to the lake next year in case the walleye decline continues.

Minnesota closed walleye fishing on the state’s premier walleye lake in early August after anglers exceeded a harvest quota meant to protect the fish population. But the decision angered local business owners, exposing years of distrust between the community and the state’s wildlife officials as its walleye populations dipped to 30-year lows.

Landwehr said the new measures are designed to both address management of the lake and better engage the community. Community members will be given information about available options and they will be included in some decision making processes so they can offer preferences going forward.

In the statement, he said the agency is “redoubling our efforts to ensure its long-term health.”

Gov. Mark Dayton has expressed disappointment with state lawmakers, who earlier this month scrapped ongoing talks of a special session to aid Mille Lacs businesses struggling after the walleye season closure. He praised the DNR’s new measures as an important first step to help the lake.

“These measures will be essential in restoring Lake Mille Lacs to greatness, and in earning the public’s trust,” he said in the statement.

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