Still chained to its good old boy image the Ohio Division of Wildlife once again has infuriated its customer base over a matter of some significance for the latter.
Somewhere along the agency’s chain of command came the hot idea of helping to ensure that Lake Erie fish poachers won’t get away with their illegal catch.
To accomplish this goal the Wildlife Division created a new rule. Instead of allowing anglers to fillet their catch whole or in part with the fish skin removed this regulation now says “It is illegal to possess fish in any form other than whole or into complete fillets with the skin attached... until the angler reaches their permanent residence.”
Which on the surface of things looks pretty straightforward. Except for the fact that anglers living more than few hours away from Lake Erie or those who have their catch professionally cleaned must either cool or freeze their catch with the skin still attached.
Better it is, says these anglers, that they can unzip their catch at the dock, remove the skin and then either freeze the fillets or at least put them on ice for the long journey home
“I now have to bring home my ‘normal’ two-day limit of walleye and finish cleaning them, most inconveniently,” said Chip Hart, an outdoors writer and angler from Cincinnati. “Not to mention that two- (and) three-day-old walleye, although refrigerated, taste fishy with skin left on that long.
“As well, my fishing buddies who ‘don’t have a convenient place to clean them’ will be having me do them, too.”
As for participating in any Lake Erie perch charter in the future, “those are completely out of the question,”
“Guess Lake Cumberland, the Cumberland River, and Dale Hollow will see more of me,” Hart said.
Another angler, Larry Fielder of Euclid, is no less upset.
Fielder notes that even after hauling the fish home, filleting them there and removing the skin has its legal drawback.
“Under the new law I can’t take my processed fillets over to your house for a fish fry,” Fielder has said.
All of those points could have and should have been avoided.
First off the new regulation is not highlighted in red print as is the usual practice for freshly adopted rules that universally appear in any annual fishing law digest.
“Oops” is the best the Wildlife Division can say about this exclusion.
But “oops” is all too common for an agency that continues to drop the public relations ball more than a Cleveland Indians outfielder flubs a simple pop-up.
The Wildlife Division first needed to announce its intentions and also seek prior public input on an issue that assuredly was going to generate interest if not outright opposition.
It was either callous or downright neglectful for the Wildlife Division to ignore seeking such comment not only from individual anglers but also from charter boat skippers as well as commercial sport-fish cleaning businesses.
I know, I know, the Wildlife Division has gone on record by saying it won’t be “...going after a fish cleaning station.” but rather going “...after the guys who are going out two and three times a day...” to over-bag on their daily allotment and the agency also intends to “..use a lot of discretion.”
Even with those self-described limitations do not think for one moment that every Wildlife Division officer will follow these unwritten guidelines instead of observing the letter of the law even if its spirit is unwilling.
With the rise of Scott Zody as the Wildlife Division’s new chief there was - and still is - hope that at long last the Wildlife Division’s torpid and monolithic bureaucracy will become modernized and more responsive.
Let US hope we’ve seen the last of the Wildlife Division’s bumbling steps at dealing with the people who foot the bill.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn