Many local residents assume anglers from outside their community commit most of the fishing violations on area lakes, but that’s not always the case, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Recently, three anglers, including a married couple that lives along Mille Lacs Lake, were charged with over-limits of fish and face heavy fines and restitution.
Richard E. Southworth, 70, and Linda J. Southworth, 59, of Isle were recently charged by DNR conservation officers with a gross over-limit of 52 walleye. During a routine check on Mille Lacs Lake, the couple was found with three lines in the water. Later it was discovered that they were in possession of 26 bags of fish. Restitution for the 49 Mille Lacs walleye, in addition to three Red Lake walleye, amounts to $1,560.
The gross over-limit of wild animals penalty totals $1,000. Toss in another $1,000 for a misdemeanor charge of angling with two hooks or a treble hook and the Southworth’s face nearly $6,000 in fines and restitution if convicted. Seized in the investigation were a boat, rods and reels, and their fishing licenses.
Edwin F. Seidl, 65, also of Isle, finds himself in the same boat. DNR conservation officers caught him with an illegal 13-inch walleye while fishing Mille Lacs Lake. Further investigation found Seidl in possession of an additional 16 walleyes and a northern pike from the lake. Seidel was 15 walleye over the legal limit and charged with misdemeanor possession. The possession limit on Mille Lacs Lake is two walleye with a slot restriction of 18-20 inches. Restitution for the fish is $610 along with a $400 fine.
This is Conservation Officer (CO) Chris Tetrault’s first year on the lake after graduating from the CO Academy earlier this year.
“I’m seeing a lot of illegal length fish being taken from Mille Lacs Lake,” the Isle-based officer said. Tetrault noted that he seized 120 illegal fish from anglers in July alone, something long-time Mille Lacs Lake COs had never seen before.
“That may not seem like a lot of fish, but when you can legally keep two walleye from 18 to 20 inches, and violators are taking 49 walleye in one instance, 16 in another instance, five from another person, and the rest illegally taking one or two fish per person, it adds up quickly,” Tetrault said.
In this instance local residents were discovered with gross over-limit and misdemeanor cases within a mile of each other. “With the lake encompassing 120 miles of shoreline we’re likely catching only 2 to 5 percent of the violators who either visit or reside on the lake,” Tetrault said.
The Southworths and Seidl are scheduled to appear in Aitkin County court in October.
Busts that start as routine fish or fishing license checks have proven very effective for DNR conservation officers. A routine patrol earlier this year on Lake Winnibigoshish netted three men with 203 yellow perch or 83 over the legal limit. Fines, restitution, and court costs totaled $3,300.
In 2012, the sharp eye of a conservation officer netted an Otsego man with 413 sunfish and 30 crappies over the legal limit. The gross misdemeanor offense contained a restitution value for the fish of $2,000.
Catching fish poachers is never easy because it's rare that officers actually see the crime in action. The average Minnesota officer patrols about 650 square miles, so it's impossible for officers to watch every lake.
“That’s why we need the public's help,'' Tetrault said. “We need all the eyes and ears we can get.”
Anyone witnessing a fish or wildlife violation is encouraged to contact the 24-hour, toll-free Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline at 800-652-9093. Cell phone users can dial #TIP.