Chippewa spearfishing plans cause controversy

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Chippewa spearfishing plans cause controversy

Premiere Date: 
April 11, 2013

James Zorn discusses the Chippewa tribe's spearfishing practice in northern Wisconsin.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

We turn now to experts in the field of tribal treaties as they pertain to wildlife management in Wisconsin. An agency that can help us sort through the question of harvest quotas when it comes to spear fishing. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission represents Ojibwa Tribes in the state in support of the exercise of treaty rights. Jim Zorn is Executive Administrator with the commission and he joins us now from Ashland. Thanks very much for doing so.

Jim Zorn:

It's my pleasure. Thank you.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, DNR Secretary Stepp further says that she will “stand up for state interests,” including angler harvest opportunities, and the benefits they bring to local economies. In your mind, are angler, that is non-tribal harvest opportunities, denied or restricted because of tribal spear fishing declarations this year?

Jim Zorn:

No. The simple answer to that is they're not. No fisherman has any right to fish greater than the law provides. Since we're in a state that has treaty rights that come along with statehood, the tribes have a right to fish, as does the state. So the declarations are well within the tribe's treaty-guaranteed and reserved rights, and since the tribes are actually declaring less than what they really could under the law, there is not a denial to any state angler. In fact, there's a greater opportunity that the angler really could have if the tribes exercised their rights to the maximum the law would allow.

Frederica Freyberg:

I want to ask about that. How much could the tribes take under the law?

Jim Zorn:

The overriding law as I understand it is, is that the biologists have said that up to 35% of an adult population of walleyes in the lake could be harvested safely. And the courts have said that the state and the tribe are supposed to share those. If you cut that in half, roughly the tribe should be entitled to about 17.5% of the population. Historically, they've harvested anywhere from about 6% to 10% of a population. So really well below their allocation.

Frederica Freyberg:

So how does the tribe decide how many fish to harvest when they make the declaration to harvest this many walleye? How do they come up with that number?

Jim Zorn:

That's a community-based decision that takes into account food needs. It takes into account past demand and demonstrated harvest. It takes into account where the fish might be. Sometimes some lakes are down and they have to look to other lakes to meet their needs. But in general the purpose of the right is to put the food on the table.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, Secretary Stepp describes the DNR's one-daily bag limit response to the tribal spearing declarations on 197 lakes as a “drastic increase” over the past 15 years. She says where no more than ten lakes have seen this one-bag limit. But who decides on the bag limits for non-tribal fishermen?

Jim Zorn:

The state does. And the bag limit response is a response of many options that the state could choose. They could choose a minimum size limit. You could choose a slot size. You could do a combination of things to afford a different bag limit reduction. And then, to address the notion of whether or not this is a drastic increase of one-bag limit lakes, what really needs to be looked at for many of these lakes, the difference between a one-bag limit and two-bag limit is as few as one fish and perhaps as many as 20. So really when I looked at some of these numbers for the Mole Lake Tribe, for example, of the lakes where they declared, and the state responded with one-bag limit, it's an average of ten fish per lake, the difference between the one-bag limit and two-bag limit. Tribal fishermen know that those ten fish, if they don't take them, and if they don’t, the anglers will certainly take that many and more. Our biologists feel-- well, it's clear you have to draw the line somewhere. Ten fish one way or the other is not going to make a biological difference, nor should destroy the economy of the northwoods.

Frederica Freyberg:

How does this year's tribal declaration intended number of walleye compare to past years? Is it a drastic increase in the number of fish that they intend to harvest?

Jim Zorn:

No. In fact, since 1989, when we've really gotten into the modern era of the treaty exercise, the tribes have declared anywhere from 50,000 to 60,000 walleyes. This year's declaration among the last four years has been-- it's lower actually than 2010 and it's within 4,000 to 5,000 fish of the last couple years. So it's not a humongous increase at all.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet that's the intended kind of target harvest. What does the actual harvest end up being kind of historically?

Jim Zorn:

Depending on weather, depending on last year, as you saw, we had that very early spring. This year it looks like it's still snowing up here. I don't know if you know that, but we have a lot of ice on the lake. In 1989, for example, the tribal harvest was 40% of their declaration. In 2000 it was 75%. In 2012, it was 60%. So, somewhere between 40% and 60% depending on the year, how the weather goes and things like that will really determine how many fish are harvested.

Frederica Freyberg:

So when people worry that the lakes will be speared dry of the walleye under these drastic increases, it doesn't sound like that's accurate.

Jim Zorn:

No. In fact, statistics show that on average the tribes take about 26,000 walleyes each spring. That compares to about a million walleyes that the state will harvest over the course of a year in the ceded territory, and about 260,000 walleyes that state anglers will take home. So not only do state anglers catch 40 times more fish than tribal spearers do, they take home nine times more. And the tribes count their fish. We know what they take home. The state surveys about 25 lakes. So we do not see that the tribe spearing is going to have an impact on the resource or on the rights and opportunities of others.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Jim Zorn, thanks very much for joining us.

Jim Zorn:

Thank you for the opportunity.


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