The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wants to remind winter anglers to clean up the garbage around their fish houses.
Conservation officer Joe Stattelman said litter on the lakes was really bad at the beginning of the season, gets better after each snowfall, and then gets bad again.
"Before this recent snow we were seeing a lot more garbage again," Stattelman said. "Lots of pop bottles, beer bottles, cans, bait containers, bags, lumber that they are using to prop their fish houses up on..."
Officers have seen a lot of different kinds of garbage. Stattelman said he's seen propane tanks, car hoods, even Christmas trees, out on the ice.
"All that stuff that they are bringing out there has to be taken off. They can't leave anything out there," he said.
Litter on the lakes is a huge problem, according to Stattelman.
"People are taking advantage of the resources and basically disrespecting everyone else in the community that's out there," he said.
On more than one lake, anglers in two different houses were throwing their trash between their shelters. In one case, it happened five or six times before the DNR was called to take care of the situation. Stattelman said littering this year seems worse than others.
"There's a lot of fishermen out there and a lot of lakeshore owners that are really upset this year. And it's not just here, it's all over," he said. "It's sad that these people are disrespecting it like that. They're disrespecting each other, too."
Stattelman said he can't do all that much, in a way. It's hard to track down the anglers who are littering and prove that the trash is theirs unless there is a witness. He also can't force the anglers to clean up the garbage. What he can do is hand out civil citations or criminal fines, based on the total situation and his discretion.
The end of the season is coming fast, with permanent houses needing to be off lakes south of Highways 10 and 34 by Feb. 29. The line extends from about Moorhead to Duluth, Stattelman said. Fish houses north of that line need to be off the lakes by March 15.
Stattelman said fines for houses on the lakes actually increase the longer the house is on the ice. Houses that are not taken off the ice by the deadline can be confiscated by the DNR, retained as evidence, and sold by the division.
"If people don't want to lose their house, they don't want to leave it out there," he said.
Anglers can still get a bite in a portable fish house, as long as the house is occupied while it's on the ice.
"They just have to take them off with them every day," explained Stattelman.
Anglers should watch the ice and make arrangements to remove their houses before travel on the ice gets too dangerous.
There should be a minimum thickness of four inches of good ice for fishing; five inches for snowmobiles or ATVs; 8-12 inches for cars or small pick-ups; and thicknesses of 12-15 inches for a medium truck.