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Lake Vermilion fishing bust uses DNA to make case

Fish fillets were identified by species to show anglers were 56 bass over their limit.

Lake Vermilion overlimit fishing bust evidence
Packages of fish fillets were used as evidence in a case against two anglers who had 56 bass and 20 bluegills over their legal limit.
Contributed / Shane Zavodnik / Minnesota DNR
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DULUTH — Minnesota Conservation Officer Shane Zavodnik, who patrols the woods and waters of the Virginia area on the Iron Range, had to get some help from the science lab to make a big fish bust that started on Lake Vermilion.

Back on July 8, Zavodnik made contact with some out-of-state anglers who make an annual trip to Vermilion. The two anglers had complained that the fishing wasn’t that great. But, upon closer inspection, Zavodnik found them with bags and bags of fish fillets — including 68 bass (largemouth and smallmouth) and 60 bluegills. That’s 56 bass and 20 bluegills over their limit.

Because the fish were already filleted and not always distinguishable, Zavodnik sent the fillets to the lab for DNA analysis to prove how many fish the duo was over their limit for each species.

Charges were filed this month in State District Court by the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office, with a notice to appear in court sent to the anglers earlier this week. The two individuals were charged with a gross misdemeanor and gross overlimit of largemouth and smallmouth bass plus an overlimit of bluegills. If found guilty, or if they plead guilty, they will have to pay fines, court fees and restitution to the state for the value of the fish.

“The results took longer than a typical overlimit case due to each filet getting genetically (tested) for species identification,’’ Zavodnik told the News Tribune. “The party had stated that there was rock bass intermixed in some of the fish packages, so we needed to be certain which species of fish each fillet belonged to.”


Zavodnik investigated a case last year against an Iron Range man who was 53 walleyes over his limit. The man was convicted in December and ordered to pay $4,485 in fines, fees and restitution.

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

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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