Out-of-town anglers catching tickets for fouling public lakefront land
Port Washington Parks and Recreation foreman Bob Poull was cutting the lawn near the city’s fish cleaning station across from Coal Dock Park recently when he smelled something rank.
When he looked around, he found a couple fish near some bushes, Parks and Recreation Director Charlie Imig said. Poull cleaned up the fish, but the smell remained.
When he looked closer, he discovered roughly 50 fish, the roe stripped from their decaying bodies, in the bushes.
While that may be an extreme case, it’s not the only case of fishermen — many of them from out of the area — fouling the park, Imig said.
“It’s just disturbing. They’ll slit the necks (of fish) and let them bleed out on the sidewalks,” he said. “They’ll fillet them on the benches. They leave their gear on the sidewalk.
“They just have no regard for people walking through the park. It doesn’t make the park a friendly place for residents or visitors or anyone. It’s horrible.”
In response to complaints like these, the Port Washington Police Department is stepping up enforcement along the lakefront, targeting those who are ruining the area for others.
“We’re trying to just clamp down as much as possible,” Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said. “We are strictly enforcing the laws that are in place.”
That means preventing people from entering the park outside of the official hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., he said, and ticketing those who leave carcasses behind.
“The big one we’ve been applying is curfew violations,” Hingiss said. “There have been fishermen going in there all night or very early in the morning.”
So far this month, officers have issued roughly seven tickets and referred other cases to the Department of Natural Resources for citations, he said.
“These are just the ones we’ve caught,” Hingiss noted. “We’re shorthanded, but we’re doing the best we can.”
The people who have been ticketed by the department so far have one thing in common, Hingiss noted — they don’t live in the area.
“All the violators so far have been people living south of here,” he said. Most are from Illinois, some from Kenosha and Racine.
Just as it did last year, the department is working with DNR Warden Tony Young to patrol the fishermen, Hingiss said.
Young said that last fall, he issued between 50 and 60 citations in October.
“Two a day on average is a ton for me,” he said.
Many of the citations are for fishing violations — snagging fish, keeping a foul hooked fish and violations of fishing hours, he said. After Sept. 15, fishermen on the tributaries of Lake Michigan are only allowed to fish 30 minutes before sunrise or later and 30 minutes after sunset or earlier.
He also deals with littering, something Young said he abhors.
“It’s a problem, and it’s hard to enforce because it’s a lot of little stuff. It adds up and it gives fishermen a bad name,” he said, noting fishermen leave behind small spawn sacks, mesh netting, fishing line, papers and cigarette butts that give the parks a messy appearance.
Young said he also deals with quarrels between fishermen who feel others are encroaching on their space.
“There’s no right you have to be five feet from the next fisherman,” he said. “People fight and say, ‘Give me my spot.’ We’ve had disorderly complaints going to Port police over that.”
The small stuff, such as littering, is the biggest problem, Young said, although the large problems such as carcasses left behind are more visible to the public.
Young noted that the season for complaints is really just now heating up, adding it runs through spring and is worse when there is a significant amount of rain to spur a run of fish.
Hingiss concurred, saying the problems caused by fishermen are generally chronic and seasonal, peaking when the salmon spawn in fall. Most of those violating the laws aren’t after the fish as much as the roe they carry, he said.
“I’ve been told there’s a big market for it in Chicago and Illinois,” Hingiss said. “But if that’s all they (the fishermen) are here for, we’d rather they went someplace else.”
The department doesn’t have a problem with fishermen using the park, he stressed.
“They can fish here as long as they obey the law,” he said.
Young said, “I’m pro-fishermen. I want fishing to thrive in the city. But this makes all fishermen look bad.
“There’s a big group of fishermen and women who obey the rules and leave the area cleaner than when they come.”
But the small group of violators make everyone look bad, Young said.
The violators, Hingiss said, are causing big problems for the city.
“Look at all the money the city has spent on the park. People want to enjoy it, and there are fish carcasses everywhere you want to walk. You can see where people have gutted the fish on the sidewalk and boardwalk.
“It’s a big problem.”