Tribal Spearfishing Harvest

Each spring, members of the Bad River and Lac Courte Oreilles bands of Lake Superior Ojibwe exercise their off-reservation Treaty rights to harvest muskellunge and walleye by spear in Teal and Lost Land lakes, which lie within the Ceded Territory. Ghost Lake is not speared because the water is too darkly stained for adequate underwater visibility. Muskellunge harvest in Teal and Lost Land is nonexistent or negligibly low in most years. But each year some walleyes are harvested, and anglers often ask if this activity has any significant impact on the recreational walleye fishery.

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) produces annual reports containing vital statistics on the spring spearfishing harvest in northern Wisconsin, available on their website (see Links). I extracted select data from appendices in those reports to produce a summary table with walleye harvest statistics since 2010 that should answer most questions (click on PDF link below).

Spring Walleye Spearing Harvest at Teal and Lost Land Lakes since 2010 (PDF)

To place these results in perspective, it is important to know that our objectives for Teal and Lost Land lakes are to maintain adult walleye population densities of 4 and 2 per acre, respectively. Estimates conducted once every 13-14 years (intensive, costly operation for WDNR) suggest that our objectives are realistic. Assuming our adult walleye populations are somewhere near targeted levels, the typical annual tribal harvest of walleyes in Teal Lake (0.1-0.2 fish per acre) and Lost Land Lake (0.1 per acre or less) in recent years has had insignificant influence on our walleye populations (less than 5% of available adult fish annually).

In most recent years, tribal harvest of walleyes has fallen far short of their “declaration” (pre-season announcement of intent to harvest) for a variety of reasons, but there seems to be some recognition that we are in a population rebuilding phase, during which voluntary restraint will be to everyone’s long-term advantage. Because individual tribal spear fishers are limited to one walleye per night 20-24 inches long and one over 24 inches (mostly female), the vast majority of fish harvested are smaller males, leaving more than enough large, egg-laying females to ensure the next generation of naturally produced fish. In summary, fluctuations in our walleye populations are governed mostly by angler harvest and by walleye interactions with other species of fish in our lakes.