The Resource Management Division is involved in various aspects of research and management of fish populations throughout the Ceded Territory. Our work is conducted in cooperation with other management agencies like the Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Through cooperation, we work together to stretch tight budgets with a goal of successful management and protection of fish resources for all constituents, both Band members and non-band members alike.
As ogaa (walleye) are a culturally significant species for the Bands we serve, much of our fisheries work deals with walleye management. Our work with walleye ranges from assessments of spawning populations in the spring, to investigations of year class production in the fall, to identification of important spawning and “nursery” habitat…
SPRING WALLEYE ASSESSMENT
As the ice cover melts off of local lakes each spring, the increasing day length and warming water temperatures trigger walleye impulse to spawn.
Our Resource Management staff conduct spawning surveys at night when walleye congregate in shallow, rocky areas of lakes. An electrofishing boat is maneuvered along the shoreline, “shocking” fish. The walleye are temporarily stunned, scooped up with a dipnet and placed in an onboard tank. The crew then processes fish to collect data: the sex of each individual is identified, lengths are recorded, and spines are collected determine age and growth rates for the fish. The walleye are then released.
Spring walleye surveys are also important to identify critical walleye spawning habitat in area lakes.
FALL WALLEYE ASSESSMENT
As September rolls around and water temperatures begin dropping below 70°F, we begin our annual fall electrofishing season on inland lakes in the 1854 ceded territory. The goal for the fall walleye assessments is to get an idea of how strong of a year class, or how many walleye were produced that spring.
Small, three to six inch, young-of-year (YOY) walleye are captured in the lake shallows, measured, and scale samples are taken for aging and growth analysis. The fish are then released.
LAKE STURGEON RESTORATION
Historically the St. Louis River was home to a very abundant, naturally reproducing population of namè, or lake sturgeon. By the early 1900s lake sturgeon were nearly eliminated from the St. Louis River system due to effects of exploitation, water pollution, and habitat alteration.
As water quality improved into the early 1980s the Wisconsin and Minnesota Departments of Natural Resources began the long process of a large-scale reintroduction program. Between 1983 and 2001, fry and fingerling sturgeon were stocked annually in an effort to reestablish enough year classes for eventual resumption of natural reproduction.
Now, 30+ years after stocking was initiated, there are signs that sturgeon are again reproducing in the river. To monitor this occurrence, in 2010 the 1854 Treaty Authority started larval drift net sampling below suspected spawning sites to confirm successful hatching of larval sturgeon.
From 1989 to 2004 the U.S. Geological Survey conducted trawling surveys in the St. Louis River Estuary to monitor populations of the invasive ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernuus) and native fish species. Although the surveys showed increases in ruffe and establishment of another aquatic invasive, round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) in 1995, surveys were discontinued in 2005 due to a lack of funding.
The benefit of a consistent, long-term study is a better representation of what may be occurring in populations, and therefore in 2010, 1854 Treaty Authority reinstated the annual bottom trawling surveys of the St. Louis River with three goals:
- maintain annual monitoring of population trends of the native and nonnative fish communities;
- surveillance for new exotic introductions;
- use the survey as a means of documenting successful lake sturgeon reproduction that is expected to occur following restoration efforts by the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources.
Thanks to Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1854 was able to acquire our own trawling vessel in 2014, and will allow for bottom trawling surveys to continue on an annual basis.