Midwest: Walleyes

The fate of the iconic walleye was sealed on December 12, 2000.

That’s the day that the Supreme Court essentially awarded the presidency to George W. Bush over Al Gore. Gore was a leader on climate change and his administration would have pushed aggressive policies to fight it at a time when something still might have been done to slow it substantially.

Instead, the Court gave us Bush and Bush gave us no progress at all for eight years. By the time he was out of office the political lines had hardened and a decade had been lost. When Barack Obama took office he felt that he had to make a choice about where to spend his political capital: climate change or health care. He chose the latter.

That brings us to today and the fate of the walleye in the Upper Midwest. In an excellently reported story in the Wisconsin State Journal, Chris Hubbuch quotes Wisconsin fisheries managers who now urge us to simply adapt to the reality of new dominant fish species in our state. The cold water habitat that supported walleye and trout is going away. They say we need to develop a taste for bass, like an Alabaman would.

It occurred to me while reading Hubbuch’s story that these experts all appeared to be on the young side — perhaps in their 30’s. If that’s true, they’ve come of age and come into their profession long after Bush v. Gore. To them the die has been cast. There’s no going back and there’s no point in resistance — increasing stocking of cold water species and other strategies to maintain them. The power of climate change is overwhelming and irreversible, at least for the next several decades.

It’s hard to argue with the young experts. But I’m 63 and I’m having trouble adjusting. It’s not that I’ve ever caught a walleye and I’ve caught darn few trout. But I spend about half my year on a lake in the U.P. once brimming with walleye and now they’ve become rare. It’s a cultural and, I suppose, sentimental thing more than anything else for me. It’s the idea of walleye and trout that captivates me. Species that thrive in cold, just like us.

I sure as hell am angry that the Supreme Court back in 2000 and the deniers all along killed the walleye and so many other aspects of northern life that we have yet to discover and some we already have. Own a snowmobile in southern Wisconsin?

It’s no small matter that we’ve screwed this up so bad that the very species that once plied our waters are on their way out and leaving rapidly. I’m grateful for the young professional managers who will help us adapt, but I’ll never get over what was lost — and so needlessly.

Welcome to Midwest, a regular Sunday morning feature here at YSDA, where we explore what’s good about the center. Want to read more about why it’s good to be in the middle? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

4 thoughts on “Midwest: Walleyes

  1. Love your stuff, Dave. But the Supreme Court did not “award” the presidency to anyone. It ruled that the proper state procedures had been followed under our federal system and that it would not intervene. Sort of like 2020. Or are you an election denier? As to “climate change” — how many trillions of dollars need we spend to improve your walleye catch? All undone by a guy like Vladimir Putin burning entire cities. How many more windmills and solar farms in Cambridge WI will it take to power more Teslas? Great Britain once supported vineyards; Greenland once was green, on the fringes. Wisconsin was under a mile of ice. La plus ca change …


  2. Hi Dave. Some years ago the Old Papyrus group read a great book called the Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan. Fascinating and on target with some of your comments. Best, Jim

    Sent from my iPhone


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