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Fundingsland: Clean your fish this way

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has announced their new fishing regulations for 2020-2022. Included is a directive on how a fisherman must clean his fish. Understandably, this new regulation has stirred a lot of discussion in the fishing community.

Included in the new fishing guide is the change that “two fillets are counted as one fish” and that “each individual portion of the meat removed from a fish is considered a fillet.” There is an exception for removing walleye cheeks and pectoral girdles. There is no exception for making mistakes while filleting, such as imperfectly removing a fillet that can result in two or more pieces of meat from a single side of a fish.

If you keep the extra pieces they will count against your limit, no matter how many fish you actually caught. That means to avoid a possible charge of exceeding a daily limit a fisherman will have to discard perfectly good pieces of fish or toss them into the grinder at a cleaning table. That could be construed as wanton waste.

A popular method of cleaning northern pike is to remove the backstrap, cut away the outside skin beginning at the middle and working toward both ends, then stripping out the center section. That results in four pieces of meat. According to the new regulations that equals two fish before any other meat is removed from the fish.

For northern pike that means an outside fillet from each side, another full fish under the new regulations, two boneless tail sections, which count as yet another complete fish, and then inside fillets from each side. Another fish. Using this cleaning method, and many do, results in 10 pieces of fish, or fillets, from a single northern pike. Clean a second pike in a similar manner and you’d have 20 fillets. According to the new regulations you would be five fish over your daily limit despite having cleaned only two.

Of course, says Game and Fish, you can simply remove the two sides of a fish, pretty much the standard way to clean walleyes, and take them home and finish them up however you wish. Okay, but what about the wonderful convenience of having fish cleaning stations near many boat ramps in this state?

It is there that many fishermen clean, cut and wash fish fillets, sometimes even to the point of cutting pieces to size in preparation for cooking. I expect the fish cleaning stations will still be busy this summer but not in the same way as in the past. For example, the practice of “zipping” walleye fillets, which is removing the unwanted middle strip of fillets, will be brought to an end because it can result in dividing one fillet into two.

The reason behind the new cleaning regulation is to make it easier for game wardens to determine how many fish a person, perhaps a violator, has caught when several cuts of fish are transported in a single zip-lock bag. That’s understandable to a point, but perhaps not enough to warrant the current change in regulations and inconvenience the majority of fishermen.

The two-pieces-of-fish-will-be-counted-as-one-fish regulation has been in effect in neighboring states Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana. That doesn’t mean it should be adopted here too.

It has the appearance of over-reach by a state agency, particularly if it results in a fisherman being charged for catching too many fish when he actually cleaned a legal limit in a fashion not directed by Game and Fish.

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