Keeping within the limits

Fishermen who keep too many fish risk heavy fines. Recently, five Wisconsin fishermen at Devils Lake were found to have 100 walleyes more than legally allowed. Each of the anglers are facing fines of more than $1,700. Much of the penalties stem from exceeding the possession limit.

The state’s daily walleye limit is five. The possession limit is 10. While the recent bust at Devils Lake involved fishermen knowingly exceeding the limit, some fishermen may not have a clear understanding of daily and possession limits.

“Never have (in your possession) more than a possession limit, no matter where you are at,” explained Tim Larson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department warden. “The possession limit applies to lake cabins, campers, tents; that’s when the possession limit comes into play.”

There is no storage limit on the amount of fish a person can have in their home freezer. However, if fish are stored elsewhere than a primary residence, the possession limit applies. For example, if a Minot resident has a summer cabin at Van Hook on Lake Sakakawea and more than a possession limit of walleyes, 10, they would be subject to fines.

“They can have the fish in Minot and not affect anything,” said Larson. “A weekend place is not their home if their residence is in Minot or another city.”

“The reason is to cut down on the temptation to do the double- and triple-dipping,” said Bob Timian, NDG&F chief warden.

Double- or triple-dipping are the terms used to describe fishermen who catch a limit, return to shore and then go fishing again later the same day. Each year, a number of fishermen are cited for the illegal practice.

Some fishermen choose to cook and eat their catch while spending a weekend or a few weekdays at the lake, thereby consuming fish that would apply to their possession limit. Eating fish means fewer fish in possession, but it does not necessarily mean a fishermen can legally return to the water to catch and keep more fish. Daily limits apply. That means a fisherman who catches a limit in the morning and enjoys fresh fish for lunch cannot return to the water the same day and catch and keep more fish. Doing so would exceed the daily limit.

Catching and keeping more than the daily limit remains one of the state’s most common fishing violations. Fishermen may continue to fish after a limit of a particular species has been reached, but they must immediately release all fish caught back into the water. However, that’s not always as simple as it seems. It can cause a fisherman to break the law.

“Let’s say you caught your limit and you keep fishing,” said Larson. “Now you catch a fish that is hooked deeply and injured. Regulations say you have to keep injured fish and cannot release them. If you let it go, you break the law and if you keep it, you break the law.”

Greg Gullickson, NDG&F outreach biologist, is well aware of possible problems associated with placing a limit of fish in the livewell and then continuing to fish with the plan to catch and release.

“What I’ll do is just keep four, not five walleyes,” said Gullickson. “That way if I injure one I can keep it and not be in violation.”

The North Dakota Fishing Guide contains daily and possession limits for all species of fish in the state. Generally, the possession limit is twice the daily limit but in no case can a fisherman exceed the daily limit.

Each year some fishermen are cited for exceeding the daily limit after they had given fish away to another angler and resumed fishing. Gifting fish is legal, but it does not mean an angler who gives fish away can catch more than a daily limit. If gifted fish are already packaged, the packages must contain pertinent information as described in the North Dakota Fishing Guide.

Another issue that is often dealt with by wardens is the practice of party fishing. If a party of three walleye fishermen return to the dock with a daily limit of 15 fish, the law states they each must have caught their own.

“Party fishing and hunting is illegal in North Dakota,” said Timian.