Council vote reverses fish filleting rule

Columbus — The Ohio Wildlife Council has passed rules to modify the controversial fish fillet rule and other fish and wildlife rules, according to the DNR Division of Wildlife.

Under the new rule, fillets must be kept whole until an angler reaches his or her permanent residence or until the fish are prepared for immediate consumption. There will be no requirement to keep skin on the fillets. This rule will not apply to anglers with a receipt from a fish cleaning house or charter captain, which states the date, number, and species of fish.

“We got a lot of public complaints, a lot of constituent complaints, so we met with the charter boat captains up on Lake Erie and listened to what their concerns were,” said Ken Fitz, law enforcement administrator for the Division of Wildlife. “And, we decided to make some changes.”

Fitz said it’s part of the rulemaking process to listen to constituents (i.e. the public) before making final recommendations to the wildlife council.

“A lot of times, there might be something going on out there that we’re not aware of,” he said. “We have a tremendous issue up there at times, particularly along Lake Erie, with guys coming in and taking way over their limit of fish. They are doing a pretty good job of taking advantage of a good fishery that we have the responsibility to protect.

“What were finding was that guys would have a gallon-size Ziploc bag full of chunked up fish,” Fitz said. “They would then say that ‘that was just one walleye. It was just really big.’”

It makes for a tough identification task for wildlife officers, Fitz said.

“Once those fish are skinned and cut up, you can’t tell what they are,” he said. “So, the officers who work up there said they needed to have the fillets whole with the skin on them to tell them apart.

“A lot of people might say ‘you can’t tell a walleye fillet from a perch?’ Well, sure you can,” Fitz said. “But, we have a lot of inland lakes with bag limits on crappie. If I caught my limit of crappie and then caught a couple extra, I might skin them and say they were bluegills.”

Having some kind of fillet rule on the books is the norm throughout the region, Fitz said.

“We looked at what other Great Lakes states do and almost all of them have some kind of skin requirement,” he said. “But, we’re going back to whole fillets here.”

Overbagging, largely, is a Lake Erie problem and not so much on the state’s inland lakes, the law enforcement director said.

“Talking to our inland officers, they said this has never been an issue for them,” Fitz said. “It’s been pretty much all up along Lake Erie. So, maybe the idea that you can’t tell a perch from a walleye from a steelhead from a bass is fairly valid.”

Changes like this one are not all that uncommon, Fitz said.

“That’s why our administrative code is written in a three-ring binder,” Fitz said. “Wildlife rules are always changing.”

Rules encompassing wild animal hunting preserves, commercial bird shooting preserves, and wild cervids were passed to align with recently enacted legislation (House Bill 389). The Ohio Wildlife Council also passed rules to define the geographical limits on reservoirs and bag limits of selected fish species. For the complete list of rules, go to wildohio.com.

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