In addition to dropping its NAFTA trade challenge over the border waters fishing dispute, Minnesota has agreed to reduce its catch limit for walleye/sauger on the Lake of the Woods.
But limits on Minnesota’s side of Rainy Lake will remain the same.
Dennis Stouffer, with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul, confirmed yesterday that state has agreed to reduce its daily limit from 14 walleye/sauger to eight walleye/sauger on Lake of the Woods during the summer season.
It must be noted, though, that anglers still will be able to keep up to six walleye under the new limit (in effect, the number of sauger allowed was reduced from eight to two).
“I guess the way we see the [reductions] is that it’s a start,” said Randy Hanson, who sits on the Border Waters Coalition. “It’s guarded optimism but it’s a start.
“They knew they had to do it. It just looked too bad for them because they were looking like fish hogs,” he added.
Hanson said the 14 catch limit was much higher in than the rest of Minnesota, adding he was curious to see how the state would enforce the change.
Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky announced Friday the resolution of the NAFTA dispute with Canada, saying she was “pleased to announce that Ontario has revoked the discriminatory practices at issue.”
“The vitality of small- and medium-sized businesses in northern Minnesota was directly at stake,” she noted. “This action demonstrates that NAFTA works for large and small companies alike.”
Officials from Minnesota and Ontario, who met in Ottawa late last week, also committed to a “new co-operative relationship on the management and conservation of fisheries in the border region.”
Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura said he’s pleased the dispute can be put behind us.
“I am very pleased with this outcome,” he said in a press release. “Ontario and Minnesota are neighbours and friends.
“We can and should work together co-operatively to manage and conserve the bounty of our shared resources in a way that does not unfairly disadvantage businesses from either side,” he added.
The NAFTA challenge had centered on the province’s regulation that required non-resident anglers to stay overnight in an Ontario resort in order to keep walleye/sauger caught in Ontario waters.
First put in place on Rainy Lake in 1994, the restrictions were extended last year to include Rainy River and Lake of the Woods.
Ontario had vehemently defended its regulation, saying it was enacted strictly for conservation. But Minnesota resort owners complained to the U.S. Trade Representative last March that the rule violated the North American Free Trade Agreement.
In July, the USTR initiated formal NAFTA dispute resolution proceedings with Canada over the Ontario law.
Last month, the province rescinded its overnight regulation, establishing new catch and possession limits for all non-resident anglers whether they stayed overnight in Ontario or not.
As previously reported, non-resident anglers now face a daily limit of one walleye or sauger—and a possession limit of four—on Rainy Lake and a portion of the Seine River system.
They will have a daily limit of two walleye or sauger, and a possession limit of four, on Lake of the Woods and the waters of MNR’s Fort Frances District (except for Rainy Lake and a portion of the Seine River system).
“We were able to address the trade matters at issue and at the same time encourage sustainable fisheries in the border lakes,” said Barshefsky.
“I believe this sets an excellent example of how open markets and environmental objectives can be realized,” she noted.