Restraining order filed on controversial fillet rules

Akron, Ohio — A lawsuit filed in Ottawa County has resulted in a major change in Ohio’s newest fishing regulations.

Following negotiations with the Ohio DNR and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the state’s newest fishing regulations agreed to a temporary restraining order prohibiting the state from enforcing a key provision of the new regulations. 

Prior to the restraining order, a person who caught a fish anywhere in Ohio would have to return to his or her “permanent residence” before being able to cut up or consume the fish. 

State officials had interpreted the definition of “permanent residence” to mean where the person had his or her driver’s license.  The changes resulted in an uproar and confusion among Ohio’s sport fishermen, which in 2006 included over 1.2 million people and pumped almost two billion dollars into Ohio's economy.

“I had people stopping me and my clients to say ‘thank you’ for questioning and challenging these regulations,” said Akron attorney Adam VanHo, who represented the plaintiffs, the Merlitti family of Summit County.  “A lot of people, who are otherwise law-abiding citizens, were concerned that if they cleaned fish at their campgrounds or summer homes, they would be cited for poaching.”

State officials agreed to a temporary restraining order removing the word “permanent” from the regulations, which would allow people with summer homes or at campgrounds, trailer parks, hotel rooms, and other temporary dwellings to cut up and eat fish once they reach those dwellings.

“This may sound like a minor change, but by removing the word ‘permanent’ from the code, it will allow untold thousands of Ohioans the ability to clean fish once they reach where they are staying without the fear of receiving a poaching ticket,” said VanHo.  “This will allow ODNR to continue its mission of combating poaching without overburdening Ohio’s families when they go fishing on places like Lake Erie.”   

ODNR had previously scaled back a requirement that sportsmen keep an entire skin on a fillet, and is now allowing sportsmen the ability to keep a small patch of skin on a fillet when cutting up a fish (Ohio Outdoor News, May 25).  VanHo, who had some harsh words for poachers during the hearing and negotiations, said that the Merlitti’s whole goal was to protect otherwise law-abiding families who were fishing Ohio’s waterways.

“I’m glad ODNR was willing to work toward a compromise, and hope it will continue to do so,” VanHo said.  “Obviously, none of us want to see poaching in Ohio, but we need to make sure that the regulations governing family fishing are based in common sense.”

While the temporary restraining order is in force, DNR has indicated that it will conduct hearings and accept public comments on the new regulations.  While the lawsuit continues to be active, it is VanHo’s hope that a resolution will be reached before the next hearing on the case, which is scheduled for Aug. 17.   

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