Complex laws confuse immigrant fishermen


The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has done a lot to reach out to immigrants who like to fish and hunt. But some immigrants still find state rules and regulations confusing.

State officials have translated the rules and regulations into different languages, hired Hmong officers and stocked lakes with ample numbers of white bass, a popular catch among Hmong fishermen.

Even with significant efforts to educate immigrants, following state fishing rules and regulations can still be confusing.

Many immigrants don’t have fishing licenses, and often misunderstand the rules of catching verses possessing fish, DNR officials say. There are different regulations for how many fish people can keep, and how many fish people can catch and release.

In all, Minnesota’s fishing regulation book runs 84 pages long.

Trespassing, littering, and fishing in large groups also are problems among immigrants, DNR officials say.

The DNR manages the state fish and wildlife resources. State officials began dealing with cultural and historical differences and reaching out to the new communities after noticing more fishing regulation problems in the 1980s with increasing immigrant populations, said Josee Cung, a program manager for the DNR’s Southeast Asian Outreach Program.

Southeast Asian communities are the fastest growing segment of the state’s population, according to the DNR. The group mainly includes Hmong, Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodians.

With the dramatic increase of Asian immigrants, Minnesota has experienced droughts of fish, Cung said.

Many immigrants come from countries where there aren’t fishing and hunting seasons or game limits.

Tong Vang, a community liaison for the DNR’s Southeast Asian Outreach Program, said he’s been a fisherman for 32 years, and he still gets confused about the rules.

“When I see an officer coming, I’m really nervous, and say, ‘Maybe I’m doing wrong?’” Vang said.

Subtle cultural differences are even tougher to manage.

Dymanh Chhoun, a 21-year-old Cambodian immigrant, said he and two buddies had just finished fishing for sunfish recently at Prior Lake when a DNR officer asked to check their bucket of fish. The officer dumped the catch on the ground, counted 57 fish – just under the 60-fish limit (20 per person)—and handed it back to Chhoun.

In Cambodian culture, dumping fish on the ground is disrespectful and makes the fish unfit to eat, Chhoun said. He and his buddies refused to eat the catch.

“The cops need to learn the culture,” Chhoun said.

While the DNR has no specific policy how to count a catch, it is better not to dump it on the ground, Vang said.

The DNR also is training its officers to better understand a range of cultures.

“Education on both sides, not just the Asians.,” Cung said. “We educate our officers about who these people are, how to talk to them, how to interface with them.”

The state agency also is urging longtime Minnesota fishing sportsmen to learn about Southeast Asian cultures through its outreach program, which it started in 1993. Longtime sportsmen often view immigrant fishermen as competition, Cung said.

She said the program has helped reduce fishing and game law violations.

“It’s actually almost non-existent compared to when we start[ed],” Cung said.

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