Little did we realize when we got involved in a commercial gill-netting-versus-sports-fishing tourism battle back in 1979 on Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake on the Northern border of Minnesota that we would still be fighting the same battle thirty years later. The early skirmish resulted in the State of Minnesota buying out the Walleye quotas of 19 white commercial fishermen on those two lakes. During the three years it took to accomplish the buyout we started reading about the treaty rights lawsuits in Washington State and Wisconsin. Hindsight tells us that the state let us win the buyout of the white netters knowing full well that Treaty Rights were also coming to Minnesota.
In those early years we formed an organization called Walleyes Unlimited, and became a charter board member of the Minnesota Sports-fishing Congress. A few years later we formed The Hunting and Angling Club which took on the Treaty Rights lawsuits. To raise money we formed Proper Economic Resource Management and it carried the Mille Lac Treaty Case to the United States Supreme Court in an attempt to protect the interests of private landowners who the state admitted they would not protect. Some landowners intervened and became full parties to the case. They had their ten minutes of oral argument and their defense was that the tribes had taken money from the Indian Claims Commission as final payment to any and all future claims. The landowners were stunned when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a majority 5-4 opinion that totally ignored the landowners’ defense, which had won when used by other states.
As a business man we looked at sports-fishing not only as a great quality of life pursuit but also as a big economic tourism base for the towns and citizens around our lakes. Having learned how the commercial over-harvest was harming both the resource and the local economies and coming to the conclusion that Mother Nature could not supply both user groups we started looking for ways to help the people with similar views on the idea of fish farming. It has always been our view that the commercial marketplace should raise their own fish through Aquaculture rather than destroy all the small business’s in out-state Minnesota that depend on the tourism business. In the late 1980’s we were successful in helping to create a division of Aquaculture in the states Agriculture Department. However, commercial interests, although raising more fingerling walleyes to stock the lakes have continued to over-harvest and run resorts out of business, even now when there is a desperate need for more jobs.
Having begun to learn who the players were at the State Capitol and how the Indians from Red Lake and Leach Lake had powerful partners there we started studying Federal Indian Policy. It hadn’t taken us long to figure out that we had just won a little skirmish with the buyout of the white netters but that the big battle for the economic soul of our state and country was just beginning.