PORT CLINTON COMMERCIAL FISHING COMPANY GUILTY OF FELONY CHARGES |
COLUMBUS, OH - A Port Clinton commercial fishing company and its owners, Richard Stinson and Orville (Lee) Stinson, were ordered to pay $160,000 today for their part in a racketeering ring that illegally netted thousands of pounds of yellow perch from Lake Erie, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.
Port Clinton Fisheries, Inc. Wholesalers entered a guilty plea in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court today to charges of engaging in corrupt activity a felony of the first degree and theft a felony of third degree. Judge Brian Corrigan subsequently ordered the company to pay a $160,000 in fines and restitution to the state for the stolen fish. The judge placed the company under sanction for five years and ordered it to donate 250 pounds of yellow perch to a community food bank.
Richard Stinson was found guilty of theft, a misdemeanor of the first degree; Orville Stinson was found guilty of theft, a misdemeanor of the first degree.
This latest case and the pattern of corrupt activity demonstrated by other convicted commercial fishing operations has resulted in proposed new regulations by the Division of Wildlife that will tighten the rules on the industry.
"The widespread poaching of yellow perch and corruption within the commercial fishing industry could seriously impact sport fishing into the future, if the current fines and restitution do not prevent recurrences of their past practices," said Dan Schneider, Law Enforcement Administrator for the Division of Wildlife.
Schneider adds the current commercial case is considered the biggest criminal case in the history of the Division of Wildlife, and involves the illegal taking and selling of 40 tons of yellow perch which is equal to 6,133 daily sport fishing bag limits.
In June of 2005, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor indicted 14 individuals and five businesses on charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, money laundering, theft, and receiving stolen property related to commercial perch fishing. All the offenses took place between 2001 and 2003, according to Division of Wildlife investigators.
Several individuals and commercial fishing companies already plead guilty in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court and received steep fines totaling $356,000. Those individuals and companies are Joseph Smith, Roy Greene, Gary Rowan, Vito Ernande, Darlene Ernande, Craig Carr, Dale Trent, Billy Mitchell, Richard Stinson, Orville Stinson, Lake Fish, Inc., State Fish, Inc, Smith Fisheries, Westwater Fisheries and Port Clinton Fisheries, Inc. A felony investigation of yellow perch involving additional commercial fishermen and companies is still open in Lorain and Erie counties.
In light of ongoing the investigation into Ohio’s commercial fishing fleet, the Division of Wildlife has proposed tightening the rules with three new commercial fishing regulations that could go into effect May 1.
“Yellow perch are extremely valuable to Ohio sport fishermen,” said Roger Knight, Lake Erie Program Administrator for the Division of Wildlife. “It is essential that we are able to accurately measure both sport and commercial harvests. These changes in the commercial rules are a step toward improving our confidence in the numbers of fish actually harvested.”
The first change in regulations proposes prohibiting commercial fishermen from having yellow perch from the Central and Western basins of Lake Erie on their boat at the same time.
“It is critical that harvest from each basin be separately and accurately measured, given the need to properly manage perch populations,” Knight said.
The second change proposes requiring all commercial fishing vessels to notify the Division of Wildlife at least 30 minutes prior to docking with the fish they have netted. A voicemail system would collect information, such as the location of the dock where the fish will be unloaded, the name and number of the trap net boat, license number, the weight of each harvested species, and the estimated time of arrival of the boat at the dock.
Under current regulations, commercial fishermen must display flags on their nets. The third change proposes requiring different color flags to be displayed according to whether the commercial fishermen are operating in the Western or Central basin.
Lake Erie’s yellow perch are managed through a quota system between the five states that border the lake, and Ontario. Quotas are set in order to balance Ohio’s share of the lake’s yellow perch harvest between sport anglers and commercial fishermen. Commercial fishermen are required to keep accurate and legible catch reports and to stay within their licensed yellow perch quota in a given year. Safe harvest levels of yellow perch are determined by fisheries biologists to maintain healthy fish populations and provide quality fishing opportunities on Lake Erie.