State Conservation Warden Tom Heisler of Winter was already working an overbagging case when he spotted another busy angler on popular Lake Chetac in Sawyer County.
“I saw it. There were four fishing lines. The law allows three. And, he was catching a lot of fish,” Heisler said of the moment he launched a summer investigation in what became the case of the Florida snowbird and his Wisconsin son. “I zeroed in on it.”
Months later on October 11 in a Sawyer County courtroom, Ronald Dollevoet of Florida, and his adult son, Jeffrey Dollevoet of Green Bay, were ordered to pay a total of $5,787.75 in fines and to lose some of their outdoor privileges of hunting, fishing and trapping for a few years.
(Above: Some of the fish packets confiscated in the Lake Chetac overbagging case.)
The father, Ronald Dollevoet of Florida, loses his outdoor recreational privileges for three years in his home state of Florida, too, under the multi-state Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. Both Wisconsin and Florida are among the 36 member states in the compact. This agreement calls for license privilege suspensions in the 36 member states. In the case of Ronald Dollevoet, it means his rights revocation is in effect in his home state of Florida, the location of the violation – Wisconsin, and the rest of the member states.
The penalty was less for his son, Jeffrey Dollevoet of Green Bay. Because of his cooperation with the investigation, he lost only his fishing privileges in Wisconsin and for only two years.
“It took a little bit of time to catch them,” Heisler said. “In the end, they faced substantial fines and lost their privileges for hunting, fishing and trapping.”
A familiar story
The case of the Florida snowbird over-fishing is an all-too-familiar story to the conservation wardens on the beat in the northwoods, as well as the local residents and anglers who follow the rules of ethical and legal fishing to preserve their regional natural resources and their tourism economy.
Conservation Warden Andy Lundin of Green Bay says the wardens know the majority of people who enjoy the lakes follow the rules to sustain the resource. However, he says, the Sawyer County case shows how that attitude can change.
“Visitors like this (Ronald Dollevoet) typically are in the north for a limited time. The ones who choose to break the law sometimes feel the need to take as many fish as possible,” Lundin said. “It is certainly one of the more common complaints but not just limited to people who are visiting Wisconsin.”
Heisler agreed. “It is a common problem and it is a workload issue because you must spend so much time on one case.”
The case crosses county lines
Long before Heisler spotted Ron Dollevoet fishing on that summer day, Heisler had been getting citizen complaints from citizens about another fisherman overbagging on certain lakes. But the visiting Florida man wasn’t the fisher mentioned in the other complaints. Ron Dollevoet had been visiting from Florida for several years and had a place on the lake in which he stayed for months each summer.
Yet, on the day Heisler was following up on the complaints, he spotted Dollevoet and gave himself another case.
“The investigation revealed this guy was catching and keeping fish all the time,” Lundin said of the Florida man. Through the wardens’ investigation of the area, the wardens were able to determine there was a family member from Wisconsin – Jeffrey from Green Bay – involved in the case.
This is when Heisler asked Lundin from Green Bay to check in with the adult son.
“I found that Jeffrey had 77 packages of panfish in his freezer, which totaled 687 panfish,” Lundin said. “We were only able to account for possession limits for three people.”
The general statewide daily bag limit for panfish is 25 and the possession limit is 50 fish per person. Take away 150 from 687 and you’ve got 537 too many fish.
“And this is from a lake that already has a more stringent panfish bag limit. Normally, your 25 panfish daily bag limit could consist of all bluegills,” Lundin said. “But on this lake, only 10 of the 25 fish can be bluegills.”
What happens to the fish now? The wardens say the fish are either donated to a food pantry or provided for a charitable event.
Both wardens say another lesson the case shows is the fact every fish caught does not have to be kept. “There is no law that says you must keep every fish you catch,” Heisler said.
Lundin agreed, adding he takes the lesson into his guest lectures and safety classes at schools.
“I tell the kids you can catch and keep 25 panfish today for your daily bag limit and you can catch and keep another 25 tomorrow,” Lundin said. “But now you have 50 which is your possession limit. At that point you should be done fishing for panfish until some of the fish get consumed."
“The goal is to keep it fair, ensure sustainability of the resource and limit things from going to waste,” Lundin said. “ Many of these types of cases are of people being greedy and in part why we have possession limits.”
Heisler says while this case didn’t stem from specific citizen complaints, a high volume does. “The citizens are our eyes and ears.”
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