Minnesota conservation officials recently busted a walleye poacher accused of catching and keeping nearly ten times the legal limit last fall. The state carries a possession limit of six fish; but when officer Shane Zavodnik confronted a Gilbert resident about possible poaching on a tip, Zavidnik found a ridiculous 59 fish in the man’s freezer.
“It was pure gluttony, really,” Zavodnik said of James Dan Mattson, 60, in an interview with Duluth News Tribune. “I think [Mattson] is addicted to catching and keeping fish. He was keeping them for when people came over to watch Vikings games on TV.”
Turns out Mattson is also a repeat offender. Including his latest run-in with the law, Mattson has been convicted of six natural resource-related crimes in the past eight years alone.
In 2014, Mattson caught two separate charges. First, he illegally netted whitefish and ciscoes, and second, he possessed illegal containers in the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness. In 2015, conservation officers found him fishing with an extra line. In 2017, authorities caught him removing parts of a big-game animal before legally tagging it. And then in 2018 — in a different charge than the one he recently faced — officers cited him for fishing over the limit.
In this most recent case, the state of Minnesota charged the walleye poacher with a special “gross over-limits” law. Because the “restitution value of the animals is over $1,000,” the state could really take the case seriously and dole out a significant punishment. Minnesota estimated that that a walleye would fetch $30 per fish; so Mattson possessed close to $1,600 in meat when arrested.
The walleye poacher faced record fines and even some jail time
Mattson paid his $4,845 fine within a month; but he still faced further punishment, according to Zavodnik.
“He even spent a couple nights in jail,” said Zavodnik. “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.”
Zavodnik explained that Mattson caught most of the walleyes on Whiteface Reservoir and Birch Lake. The officer also found and confiscated a few other types of poached fish in Mattson’s freezer, including northern pike and salmon filets.
Zavodnik also admitted that it’s the biggest fine he’s ever doled out via the court system. He has worked as a warden in the Virginia area of the Iron Range since 2018. He also said it is one of the largest fines paid in Minnesota for a fish or game violation in recent memory.
Cases of extreme overlimit fishing like this walleye poacher do not occur often; but they do occur. In November, three Twin Cities anglers had 48 walleyes over their limits on Lake of the Woods. That case made statewide news. In 2012, wardens found a Minnesota man with 453 sunfish and crappies over his limit caught on a southern Minnesota lake.