Lake litter crackdown: States battle trash, human waste left by ice anglers
Resource officials in northern Great Lakes states are warning litterbug ice anglers to clean up their act.
Enforcement officers finding trash near favorite ice fishing spots are not pleased.
“It’s illegal to leave any garbage or litter on public lands or waters,” said Ken Soring, northeast regional manager at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a total lack of concern for the environment.”
Minnesota officers frequently recover bottles, cans, cardboard boxes, plastic bags and cigarette butts around ice fishing holes, Soring said. Raw sewage is also a problem.
“About two weeks ago, I was patrolling in Winnie, in central northeast Minnesota, and I came upon a spot where anglers had spent a long weekend fishing. There were probably a dozen of small plastic grocery bags filled with human waste,” Soring said.
In some cases, other fishermen clean up the litter.
“We do have fishermen that go out to popular spots and end up picking other people’s trash,” Soring said.
Officers give out both criminal and civil tickets for leaving trash on the ice. In Minnesota, criminal citations for littering carry a maximum fine of $300, Soring said. The size of civil fines is based on the volume of litter. The maximum fine is $2,000 and the culprit must clean up their mess, he said.
Minnesota officers wrote eight tickets and gave two written warnings about the improper use of ice shanties during the 2008-9 ice-fishing season, said Patty Holt, records officer the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Most Great Lakes states have strict laws regarding the use of shanties. Michigan anglers can only use the shelters for a specific period and must have the person’s name and address in two-inch letters on all four sides of the structure, said Dean Molnar, assistant chief of law enforcement division for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
Shanties must also be removed before the ice thins or melts, he said. Anglers can find shanty removal timelines on the department Web site.
When warm weather temporarily melts the top layer of ice, the bottom of the shanty freezes to the lake when the cold returns. Some anglers don’t care to retrieve it, Soring said.
“People have left whole houses,” he said.
Others will take parts of the house and ditch the bottom. Either way, it’s a navigation problem when boating season comes around, said Randy Stark, chief conservation warden of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“When it thaws out, you get chunks of wood floating out in the water,” he said.
To prevent shanties from freezing to the lake, Soring recommends paying attention to the weather and putting the structure on blocks to keep it off the ice.
Anglers can also move their ice shacks so they don’t settle into the ice, Stark said.
Debris and litter on the ice doesn’t appear to be a problem in Pennsylvania, where the ice-fishing season is shorter, said Keith Edwards, education manager for the northwest region of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
But coastal zone management officers frequently find cigarette butts along beaches.
“Cigarette butts are the number one item found when they do their beach and coastal cleanup,” Edwards said. “That’s true with any inland counties.”
Ice litter is much less of a problem along the southern end of the Great Lakes basin.
Pennsylvania has 51 miles of coastline along Lake Erie, which has yet to freeze over this year.
“We just don’t have the length if ice fishing season to see fishing pollution problems compile,” Edwards said.
Elsewhere enforcement is aggressive near popular ice fishing spots. In Minnesota, officers note the coordinates of ice shanties and record names. If trash is left behind, they know who should be held accountable.
Soring says there’s no excuse for littering.
“I don’t think people are thinking ahead,” he said. “They are carrying this stuff out there with them, either in a sled or by driving a truck out there. If you can take a fishing house out on the ice or bring a case of pop and grocery bags, certainly it would be even easier to take off the empty stuff.”