From Catastrophe to Recovery: Stories of Fishery Management Success

Walleye Management in the Red Lakes, Minnesota: Collapse, Recovery, and Cooperative Management

Gary C. Barnard, Anthony J. Kennedy, William P. Brown, and Donald L. Pereira


Abstract.—Fishery management jurisdiction of the Red Lakes is split between the state of Minnesota and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. Historically, the Red Lakes supported productive commercial and recreational Walleye Sander vitreus fisheries before crashing in the 1990s from decades of overharvest. In the late 1990s, these management groups began an interagency effort to develop and implement a recovery plan to restore the Walleye population, which included a complete Walleye fishing moratorium with strict enforcement and a short-term fry stocking program. Public involvement occurred early in the planning stages and throughout the implementation process. Public support was essential for effective implementation of restrictive fishing regulations necessary to expedite recovery and to resume harvests. The combination of recovery stockings and a 7-year Walleye fishing moratorium by both jurisdictions was successful, and the Walleye population recovered sufficiently to resume harvest in 2006. Walleye harvest was guided by a jointly prepared “Harvest Plan for Red Lakes Walleye Stocks” (hereafter, “Harvest Plan”; Red Lakes Fisheries Technical Committee, 2006 Harvest Plan for Red Lakes Walleye Stocks, unpublished), which took a conservative approach to harvest management while the Walleye population progressed towards full recovery as defined in the “Recovery Plan for Red Lakes Walleye Stocks” (MOU 1999). The Walleye population reached full recovery thresholds in 2009, and the Harvest Plan was revised in 2015 to allow increased harvest after observing negative density dependent effects on growth and recruitment. Current management focuses on active management of spawning stock biomass for optimal condition as defined by the revised Harvest Plan (2.5–4.5 lb/surface acre [2.8–5.0 kg/ha]; Red Lakes Fisheries Technical Committee, 2015 Harvest Plan for Red Lakes Walleye Stocks, unpublished). This approach strives to manage spawning stock biomass such that wild fry production falls within the optimal range of a density dependent stock–recruitment relationship, and to maximize the likelihood of producing strong year-classes to support harvest levels commensurate with the potential productivity of the system. The collapse of the Red Lakes’ Walleye fisheries was catastrophic but provided an incredible opportunity to increase our understanding of Walleye population dynamics, the importance of collaborative fishery management, and public involvement in decision-making processes.