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DNR shuts down Mille Lacs Lake walleye season

Walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake will close today, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

In an announcement on its website Sunday, the DNR said it is closing the season because the Mille Lacs Lake walleye harvest has exceeded the state's yearly quota by more than 2,000 pounds. The season will remain shut down through Nov. 30.

"This action is necessary to conserve walleye populations in Mille Lacs Lake for the long term. Despite the walleye closure, Mille Lacs remains a world class fishing destination with some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the country," DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said in a release. "Working together — tribes, local businesses, local government and the state — we will get through this difficult period."

Governor Mark Dayton and legislative leaders plan to address the walleye shortage in a likely special session later this month. Dayton supports a $20 million financial aid package of no-interest loans, property tax abatements, and additional funding for tourism advertising. Dayton also told the DNR to "aggressively address the issues related to the decline," the release said.

Fishing for smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskellunge will remain open "with loosened regulations for bass and northern pike that allow anglers to keep more of what they catch," the DNR said. The relaxed limits are designed to attract more visitors to the lake, it said.

"DNR tagging studies also indicate that muskies larger than 50 inches have never been more abundant," the release said.

The DNR claimed the walleye in Mille Lacs are "already poised for a comeback" and pointed to its own surveys that indicated Mille Lacs has a large population of walleye hatched in 2013 that now are 10-13 inches long.

"The survival of these fish suggests that the population will improve if more of these walleye and walleye hatched in later years survive their first year and beyond so they eventually can spawn," the DNR said.

The DNR plans more walleye counts this fall. The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe decided Friday they will temporarily suspend netting on the lake through the end of spring 2016, the release said