This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm
October 23rd, 2006

In The News

The October 2006 issue of Fishing Tackle Retailer had some real goodies. We do enjoy receiving this trade magazine, it usually has updates and solid information. This one was especially good news.

If you are new to this column, (or like me just getting old and don't remember 'stuff')here's a little background music. JC and I are Michigan natives, transplanted to Montana and then here on the far-left coast of Washington. My dad was a commercial fisherman on Lake Huron when I was growing up. He fished trap nets, box-shaped nets weighted at the bottom with floats at the top. The nets are made from netting, (linen in the 'old' days) different regulations on the size the holes must be, and there was a tunnel which the fish swim into. However, since it all looks the same under water, the fish don't swim out. There were state regulations on where you could set nets, as well as when. Limits on various fish were established and enforced. During the late 1940's and early 50's there were over 20 state fisheries patrol boats on the Great Lakes. Gill nets were also legal in some places - also regulated, sometimes more closely watched because it is much easier to pull a gill net in a hurry, especially if the nets were in an illegal area.

Commercial fishing took a nose-dive with the influx of sea lampreys through the then new St. Lawrence Seaway. The kill-off of marketable fish was immense. Very few commercial fishers survived. These folks were a different breed. They would rather be on the water than any other place in the world. Good weather, bad, no matter. They were in their element. My dad never lost the desire to be fishing again... not as a 'sports' angler. He wanted a big boat, better nets and a crew. There were families whose 'job' was commercial fishing, and the tricks of the trade were passed on through the family just like many other trades. Trust me, no one got rich at it, but it was a good way of life.

Some states got the pollution issue in hand earlier than others. Lakes Huron and Michigan were well into the clean up by the 1950s - while Lake Erie continued to allow terrible dumping of all sorts. There were jokes about Lake Erie burning, and in places it may have happened. Gratefully those days seem to be gone.

With pollution under control, the fish came back. Some, like Walleye were stocked aggressively. Yellow Perch came back.

Enter the bad guys.

Quoting the article in Fly Tackle Retailer, entitled Lake Erie Commercial Fishing License Buyout Looming:

"Ohio's 12 remaining Lake Erie commercial fishermen could be out of business permanently as early as 2007. Introduced into the Ohio Legislature this past summer two bills...that would buy out the dozen fishermen and their 18 commercial licenses for $4 million.

"There's no doubt that a buyout would benefit retailers selling tackle to yellow perch sport fishermen," said Den Brawn, a tackle retailer along the south shore of Erie's Central Basin. "If the commercial fishermen would just obey the law, I'd have no problem with them on the lake. But, unfortunately, they're proven that they won't."

The incident that Brawn refers to was the arrests of 14 Ohio commercial fishermen, two fishing companies, and three fish wholesalers in June 2005 for racketeering. This group was charged in Cuyahoga Country with taking more than their quota of yellow perch, falsifying reports and selling unreported yellow perch - as much as 80,000 pounds over their legal quotas.

"At this writing, a few of the cases are still working their way through the courts, but so far defendants have been convicted of felonies, racketeering and theft, and fined a record total of $365,000."

There's more, one part which concerned me, "In addition, judges suspended many years of jail time on the condition that defendants have no further violations during a probationary period. It is also the first time that any defendant in the U.S. has ever been convicted of theft of a wild animal."

Does that mean these yahoos are being allowed to continue fishing? And be included in the $4 million buy-out?

Seems to me anyone convicted of violating the law should have their license revoked - and the license not sold again to anyone for any reason. That would take care of the illegal commercial fishing by 14 of the 18 licenses remaining. And while I'm thinking about it, commercial licenses should not be re-sellable. Your Drivers License isn't, is it? If a licensee decides to quit fishing, the license goes back to the state, not sold to the 'highest bidder.' That would help keep the racketeering out.

Since there is some concern about trash fish taking over if the commercial fishing is stopped, allow the remaining four licenses to keep fishing - until or unless they also violate. If they do, lop those licenses off as well. Removing the 14 would certainly make enough of a point, don't you think?

I know violators have always been part of the outdoor scene, hunting, fishing. There are and always will be those who have no respect for the law, the rules, the culture, tradition, much less anything for which they can be held responsible.

But the idea of rewarding those who have been flat caught and convicted by 'buying out' their license is wacky. By the way, I'd pull the licenses of those fish wholesalers as well. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Congratulations to the Ohio Legislature. This one is good news. ~ LadyFisher

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