Every two years, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department produces a new set of fishing regulations.

Each new proclamation brings with it a few changes that are publicized and discussed at public advisory meetings and in other forums.

One of the changes this year is a modification to the rule regarding packaging of fish for transport home, such as when fish are filleted at a cleaning station or at a camper or cabin on a weekend trip away from home.

In a way, it’s a similar concept to what bird hunters must follow when they field dress birds before final transport, such as leaving a leg on a pheasant so a game warden can verify the bird is a rooster.

For the past several years, the transport rule for fish fillets was as follows:

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The packaging of fish (including parts thereof) away from one’s residence must be done in such a manner that the number of fish in each package may be easily determined.

For the first several years of my career with the Game and Fish Department, I was a game warden. I can tell you from experience that the term “easily determined” was not always so easy to determine.

More than 20 years later, I can vividly recall an encounter with one crew of anglers that had been fishing on Devils Lake for the weekend, and their huge cooler was packed with fish cut up into random pieces and stored in various packages, from empty milk cartons and plastic storage bags to hard plastic food storage containers.

To make a long story short, what they were doing was intentionally trying to prevent an accurate count to hide their over-limit, but even if it would have been unintentional, it would not have been easy to determine how many fish they had, and it would have taken a long time to try.

The new rule, as noted below, is designed to greatly reduce the broad definition of “easily determined.”

Effective April 1, the new rule is:

Fish may be filleted for transport, unless size limits apply, under the following conditions:

  • Each individual portion of the meat removed from a fish is considered a fillet (fish cheeks and pectoral girdles (wings) are not considered as fillets and are legal to transport.

  • Two fillets are counted as one fish.

  • The packaging of fish must be done in a manner so that the fillets can be readily separated and counted. If fillets are frozen, they must be packaged so that the fillets are separated and thus can be easily counted without thawing.

This is a transportation rule that is designed to minimize cheating and cut down on the time it takes game wardens to efficiently count an angler’s daily or possession limit. That, in turn, saves time for the angler as well.

Game and Fish is aware that some anglers will have to change the way they fillet fish before transporting to comply with the new law, but it’s only temporary, as they can cut up the meat any way they want before putting it in the freezer at home.

Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov.

Doug Leier
Doug Leier