DULUTH (AP) -- Minnesota's conservation officers are looking for new ways to enforce fishing limits in the wake of an appeals court decision that bars them from entering an ice house without permission from the occupants or a search warrant.
The Rice County case involved a man who was arrested for possession of crack cocaine by a conservation officer who entered the ice shack without first getting permission to come in.
As ice finally formed on lakes late last month, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sent memos to all the state's nearly 150 conservation officers notifying them that they must comply with the court ruling.
The memo also suggests some new tactics that might help officers do their jobs -- making sure ice anglers comply with state fishing laws -- without the freedom of walking into fishing shacks unannounced, said Bill Bernhjelm, director of the DNR's Enforcement Division.
"It's going to be a significant issue for us," Bernhjelm said. "We've lost a big tool for enforcement. But we're going to live with it."
Most anglers checked by officers inside fishing shacks are legal, simply having a good time under protection from the elements. But conservation officers regularly make arrests or issue citations for possession of marijuana, consumption of alcohol by minors, overlimits of fish, anglers with more than their allotted two lines in the water, and stolen goods.
In one case, officers found a methamphetamine production lab in an ice fishing shack.
In the case at issue, in January news, conservation officer Thomas Hemker entered a fishing shanty on Cannon Lake in Rice County and surprised two men smoking crack. They tried to throw their stash down a fishing hole in the ice, but Hemker reached in and grabbed it before it sank.
A district judge dismissed the case. He ruled, and the appeals court agreed on Oct. 2, that occupants of an ice fishing shanty have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" and are subject to the same search and seizure protections as someone in a home on shore.
"What if they just say 'no' when I ask if I can come in? What am I supposed to do then?" asked Dale Ebel, a conservation officer stationed in Duluth.
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