The scope statement for this rule, SS 115-19, was published in Administrative Register 768A1 on December 2, 2019 and was adopted by the Natural Resources Board on January 21, 2019. The final rule was approved by the Governor on March 12, 2020.
ORDER OF THE STATE OF WISCONSIN NATURAL RESOURCES BOARD
The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board proposes an order to amend NR 20.20 (44) (g) 3. relating to Minocqua Chain walleye harvest regulations.
Analysis Prepared by the Department of Natural Resources
1. Statutes Interpreted: Sections 29.014 (1), 29.041, and 29.053 (2), Stats., have been interpreted as authorizing the department to make changes to Wisconsin fishing rules. 2. Statutory Authority: Sections 29.014 (1), 29.041, and 29.053 (2), Stats. authorize these rules.
3. Explanation of Agency Authority:
Section 29.014, Wis. Stats., “rule-making for this chapter,” grants the department the authority to establish and maintain open and closed seasons, bag limits, size limits and other conditions that will conserve fish populations and provide good fishing opportunities for the citizens of the state. Section 29.041, Wis. Stats., provides that the department may regulate fishing on and in all interstate boundary waters and outlying waters. Section 29.053 (2), Stats., provides that the department may establish conditions governing the taking of fish for the state as a whole, for counties or parts of counties, or for waterbodies or parts of waterbodies.
4. Related Statutes or Rules:
A permanent rule, FH-25-19, will also address walleye harvest regulations on the Minocqua Chain of Lakes, with the intent of establishing long-term, sustainable size and bag limits for walleye.
5. Plain Language Analysis:
This emergency rule will extend the existing walleye harvest regulation on the Minocqua Chain of Lakes (consisting of Kawaguesaga, Minocqua, Mid, Little Tomahawk and Tomahawk lakes) to May 2021. The current regulation is slated to sunset in April 2020. Extending this regulation by one additional year will allow walleye stocked into these waters to continue to replenish populations on the Minocqua Chain. The department anticipates that by 2021, adult walleye numbers will reach established goals and natural reproduction will occur.
This rule extends the zero bag limit and defines the size limit as “none” until May 2021.
6. Summary of, and Comparison with, Existing or Proposed Federal Statutes and Regulations:
No federal regulations apply. States possess inherent authority to manage the fishery and wildlife resources within their boundaries, except insofar as preempted by federal treaties and laws, including regulations established in the Federal Register.
7. Comparison with Similar Rules in Adjacent States:
Fisheries management rules are generally similar in the states surrounding Wisconsin. Each bordering state regulates fishing by the use of seasons, bag limits and size limits. Specific seasons and bag and size limits may differ for species among the surrounding states, but the general principles are the same. Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois all have statewide seasons and bag and size limits for fish species, along with special or experimental regulations on individual waters.
Notably, Minnesota established a catch-and-release only regulation for walleye on Mille Lacs to address walleye population decline and low walleye recruitment. The catch-and-release-only season was in effect for three years. The Minnesota DNR manages Mille Lacs jointly with the Ojibwe tribes, similar to the cooperative approach for managing the Minocqua Chain by the Wisconsin DNR and Ojibwe tribes.
8. Summary of Factual Data and Analytical Methodologies Used and How Any Related Findings Support the Regulatory Approach Chosen:
The Minocqua Chain is comprised of 5 lakes and encompasses just over 5,880 acres of water. Gamefish species include musky, walleye, largemouth and smallmouth bass, and northern pike. Panfish species include bluegill, black crappie, yellow perch, and pumpkinseed. The chain is centered on the Town of Minocqua and receives a great deal of pleasure boat traffic and fishing pressure, due to the area being a highly regarded tourist destination.
Historically, walleye reproduced naturally on Lakes Minocqua and Kawaguesaga (Tomahawk has a long history of walleye stocking); however, recruitment failures were documented in these lakes through the mid-2000s with a commensurate decline in adult walleye numbers. A comprehensive stocking plan was initiated for Lakes Minocqua and Kawaguesaga beginning in 2012 which included stocking large fingerling walleye in odd-numbered years. In even-numbered years, Lake Tomahawk receives large fingerling walleye.
A stakeholder group has been monitoring this fishery closely over the past 5 years. This group developed a management plan with specific goals to be met by 2025. The plan defined a goal of 3 adult walleye per acre in Lakes Minocqua and Kawaguesaga lakes by 2021 and 2 adult walleye per acre in Lake Tomahawk by 2021. Additionally, the plan identified a benchmark of 10 – 15 young-of-year walleye per mile on all lakes in the chain as well as natural reproduction as goals. A ‘catch and immediate release’ walleye regulation was established for the Minocqua Chain in 2015 to help achieve these goals. The department has conducted surveys of walleye populations frequently during the past several years, and the proposal to extend the catch and release season is based on fall electrofishing data collected between 2014-2019, and walleye population estimates conducted in 2005, 2015, and 2019.
Stocking efforts and periodic monitoring of the fishery show that the chain is responding in a positive direction – however, natural reproduction has not returned to date and two of the three lakes are still below population goals. A local stakeholder group with representatives from DNR Fisheries Management, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company, Lac du Flambeau Tribe, and Walleyes For Tomorrow have met regularly to monitor progress on this project. Extending the ‘catch and immediate release’ regulation for walleye by one more year is expected to allow population goals to be met. Additionally, extending the catch and release regulation will allow the department and partners time to discuss permanent regulation options that would be best suited to building a sustainable walleye fishery with sufficient natural reproduction and recruitment.
Additionally, stakeholder and partner feedback and GLIFWC involvement have demonstrated support for an extension of the no harvest regulation to allow natural reproduction and recruitment to more fully establish. As testament to this collaborative effort, the Lac du Flambeau Tribe will also be extending the catch and release regulation for one more year, contingent on the state doing the same.
9. Analysis and Supporting Documents Used to Determine the Effect on Small Business or in Preparation of an Economic Impact Report:
The department anticipates a minimal economic impact, if any, as a result of these rules. Because this rule will extend an existing regulation, local anglers and businesses are not anticipated to experience any new economic impacts. The department will solicit public input on potential economic impacts during development of the permanent rule.