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Iron Range poacher pays $4,845 for 53 walleyes over limit

A Gilbert man now has half-dozen convictions for natural resource crimes.

Conservation officer Shane Zavodnik with 59 walleyes, along with northern pike and salmon, confiscated from a man's freezer
Minnesota conservation officer Shane Zavodnik with 59 walleyes, along with some northern pike and salmon, confiscated from a Gilbert man's freezer in fall 2021.
Contributed / Minnesota DNR
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DULUTH — A Gilbert man has pleaded guilty and paid $4,845 in fines and restitution for having 53 walleyes over his legal limit in his freezer.

James Dean Mattson, 60, pleaded guilty Nov. 19 to possessing 59 walleyes after being confronted by Minnesota conservation officer Shane Zavodnik. The state’s general possession limit for walleyes is six.

Mattson was sentenced in state district court Dec. 10 under the state's “gross overlimits" legislation, and paid his fine and restitution in full Dec. 23.

The gross overlimits law was passed for special cases where poachers far exceed the state limit for fish and game, when there is wanton disregard for the rules. Courts can also impose restitution for fish and game, with statutes demanding that state taxpayers should be reimbursed for the value of the animal. If the restitution value is over $1,000, the crime becomes a gross over limit.

Mattson, a repeat natural resource crime offender, was charged this time with a gross misdemeanor, stronger than the usual misdemeanor that accompanies many fish and game fines. Zavodnik said he’s glad prosecutors and the judge agreed it was a serious case.

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“He even spent a couple nights in jail," Zavodnik siad. “This is by far the biggest case I’ve ever had. And, with this guy having another over limit charge in 2018, I’m glad they took it seriously.”

It’s also the biggest fine paid by anyone busted by Zavodnik, who has been on the warden job in the Virginia area of the Iron Range since 2018, and one of the largest fines paid in Minnesota for a fish or game violation in recent memory.

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Most of the walleyes were caught on Whiteface Reservoir and Birch Lake, Zavodnik noted. All of the walleyes, along with some northern pike and salmon fillets, were confiscated.

The most recent case stems from an anonymous tip Zavodnik received that someone was fishing with an extra line. Zavodnik confronted Mattson on Sept. 19 about the extra line, and in the course of the investigation, also learned that Mattson had several fish over his limit in his freezer at home.

Zavodnik said Mattson gave officers permission to search his freezer, where they found the illegal fish.

“It was pure gluttony, really. I think he’s addicted to catching and keeping fish," Zavodnik said, adding that Mattson “said he was keeping them for when people came over to watch Vikings games on TV.”

It was Mattsons’s sixth natural resource-related criminal conviction in the past eight years. According to a News Tribune court records search, Mattson also was convicted:

  • In 2018, for an over limit of fish, paying $721 in fines and restitution.
  • In 2017, for removing part of a big-game animal before it had been legally tagged, paying $185 in fines and fees.
  • In 2015, for fishing with an extra line, paying $136.50 in fines and fees.
  • In 2014, for possessing illegal containers (such as cans or bottles) in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, paying $135 in fines and fees.
  • In 2014, for illegal netting of whitefish and ciscoes, paying $196.50 in fines and fees.

Cases of extreme overlimits are rare but occur on occasion. In November, three Twin Cities anglers were cited for having 48 walleyes over their limits on Lake of the Woods in a case that made statewide news. In 2012, a Minnesota man was fond with 453 sunfish and crappies over his limit caught on a southern Minnesota lake.
Minnesota statutes place the restitution value of a walleye illegally caught at $30 apiece.

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John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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