Ceded Territory safe and tribal harvest
"Safe harvest" is based on the total allowable catch (TAC) for a lake. TAC is the total number of adult walleye or muskellunge that can be taken from a lake by tribal and recreational fishermen without endangering the population. A safe harvest is calculated as a percentage of TAC, taking into account the variability in population estimates. Safe harvest is calculated each year for all walleye lakes in the Ceded Territory. If a recent adult walleye population estimate is available for a lake, it is used to set a safe harvest. If no current population estimate is available, a more conservative approach for estimating the population is used. Safe harvest limits are set so there is less than a 1-in-40 chance that more than 35% of the adult walleye population will be harvested in any given lake by the combined efforts of tribal and recreational fishermen.
However, population estimates cannot be conducted on every lake in the Ceded Territory in a single year and estimates that are more than two years old may no longer accurately reflect the walleye population in a lake. For lakes where it is not a population estimate less than two years old available, a statistical model is used to calculate safe harvest, based on the size of the lake and the primary recruitment source of walleye in the lake (natural reproduction or stocking). The model results in more conservative, safe harvest limits than those set using recent population estimates.
The six Chippewa tribes of Wisconsin are legally able to harvest walleyes using a variety of high-efficiency methods, but spring spearing is the most frequently used method. In spring, each tribe declares how many walleyes and muskellunge they intend to harvest from each lake. Harvest begins shortly after ice-out, with nightly fishing permits issued to individual tribal spearers. Each permit allows a specific number of fish to be harvested, including one walleye between 20 and 24 inches and one additional walleye of any size. All fish that are taken are documented each night with a tribal clerk or warden present at each boat landing used in a given lake. Once the declared harvest is reached in a given lake, no more permits are issued for that lake and spearfishing ceases.
Since 1985, 271 of 903 walleye lakes in the Ceded Territory have experienced tribal harvest. The number of lakes with tribal harvest in a given year has been between 144 and 171 every year since 1991. Total yearly tribal harvest has ranged from 18,500 to 30,558 fish for the past 13 years. Males comprise approximately 76% of all walleye speared each year. This is consistent with the relative numbers of males and females that make up spawning walleye populations in Wisconsin. The average length of walleyes speared is 15.5", and spear fishermen are restricted to a maximum of two fish longer than 20" for each permit issued.