Warden Supervisor Jennifer C. Niemeyer says salmon and trout have been shot with guns, beaten with a log, snagged in the back, and taken by hand during the annual fish run for spawning.
That’s illegal fishing of the public’s wildlife and void of all fair chase principles. Making it even worse is this happens when the fish are at their most vulnerable state.
It’s also called poaching. And it’s why DNR wardens just spent another four days on the crowded Root River in Racine County catching violators to protect these fish and the ongoing restocking program while supporting the men and women who fish legally to sustain the resource for others.
As Niemeyer tells it, this has been a problem for years. It is a problem on the Root River in Racine County, known to attract more than 300 anglers a day, standing shoulder to shoulder on this stream that is -- at most -- 20-feet wide and not even two feet deep in some areas.
As she also stresses, this is a bigger problem than in Racine County. The annual fish run and related poaching problems stretch all the way up the Lake Michigan coastline into the Green Bay area. In addition to the poaching problems, the social issues of littering and some flared tempers also come with it. But that’s another story. At the foundation of this issue are the fish.
“This is a fair chase issue – number one,” says Niemeyer, who covers Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties in the state’s southeast corner. “It is not legal to snag these fish. You have to catch them by hook and line in the mouth. This is why it is hard.
“During their spawning phase, the salmon and trout are not always aggressive eaters so at times fishers have to work for their fish. Some fishers may get frustrated – so they hook one in the back, look around and if no one is looking, they keep it.”
But someone does see them.
Most often it is a frustrated angler legally fishing the public resource. “We wardens can be standing around one corner working on one incident, and get the hotline call about another incident,” she says.
A team of wardens based in southeast region and others deployed from other state regions worked the Root River. From October 6 – 9, the wardens issued more than 35 citations for illegal fishing. “We get calls on our hotline system if people don’t see us out on the river. They want our help,” she says.
Fish refuge also hit
The Root River also is home to a restocking program that puts the fish at more risk. Niemeyer says a dam is in place to help the fish travel a ladder of sorts and into a fish refuge weir. The fish eggs left there are used for the restocking program, making this fish resource sustainable.
“We have had cases where the violators go into the refuge, chase out the fish and then illegally snag them,” she says. “We are trying to protect the fish from getting snagged out so we can take the eggs and release them back up stream.”
Niemeyer says her southeast warden team would not be able to handle this alone and thanks the wardens who travel from other state regions to help protect the resources.
“If we didn’t have the deployed wardens, it would be nearly impossible to catch the violators,” she says. “And the public wants us there to stop it.”
Want to help? Become a member of the River Patrol
Wardens need your help in preventing and identifying illegal fishing activities on these tributaries to Lake Michigan. If you fish the tributaries of Lake Michigan in the counties of Milwaukee, Racine or Kenosha and would like to promote legal fishing activity, the wardens invite you to become a member of the River Patrol.
River Patrol is a community-based program designed to preserve and to protect the tributaries by eliciting the help of law-abiding fishers to act as the eyes and ears of the conservation wardens.
Wardens know that the vast majority of fishers are ethical and law-abiding and this program creates a means for these fishers to play an active role in the protection of their resource. River Patrol cooperators complete an informational card and, in turn, are provided a free River Patrol hat. In addition, they are given a wallet-size guidelines card which explains the program and gives directions on what patrollers should do if they witness a violation.
The tributaries are posted with signs explaining the program and warning that River Patrollers immediately report violations to conservation wardens. Cooperators have no law enforcement authority but report violations using the DNR Hotline number: 1-800-TIP-WDNR
Please contact your local warden in these counties to join the River Patrol membership. And thanks!
To report a violation, call the DNR Hotline at 1-800-TIP-WDNR (1-800-847-9367) or cell #367
-- JMH, Bureau of Law Enforcement