Wide net keeps Erie commercial fishermen in line


It used to be that in the game of nautical cat-and-mouse played along the Ohio-Ontario border in the middle of Lake Erie, the mice often escaped the clutches of their feline pursuers.

Canadian commercial fishermen, who had crept across the line, would see the lawmen coming and simply skedaddle back to Ontario waters, effectively disappearing.

“As soon as they saw us, they would shut their doors, turn around, and they were gone,” said Gino Barna, law enforcement supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie Law Enforcement Unit.

The issues are gill-netting, which is legal in Ontario but has been outlawed in Ohio for almost 30 years, and licensing, since the Canadian boats were not licensed to fish the Ohio side of the lake.

“We had some real problems back then, in the eighties,” Barna said. “We’re talking about miles and miles of gill nets.”

The playing field has leveled and quite possibly tipped in favor of the gendarmes, because of advanced electronics and the involvement of multiple agencies on both sides of the international line monitoring border security.

When the Ontario-based commercial fishermen aboard the Adco II, a gill net tug boat owned by Pisces Fisheries, decided last May that the grass was greener and the fishing better on the Buckeyes’ side of the lake, the good guys were watching. And the mouse trap quickly closed.

Personnel from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources were first on the case, alerting the U.S. Coast Guard’s command center in Detroit that a commercial fishing vessel had likely slipped into Ohio waters near North Bass Island. The call rapidly pinged its way to the Coast Guard Station at Marblehead, and a 33-foot boat was immediately on its way to the scene.

Before the alleged poachers could slip away, they were nabbed by an international law enforcement posse that included the Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection units on the water and in the air, plus personnel from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Barna said his staff will periodically fly along the boundary line to check for commercial fishing boats that have illegally breached the border, but the roles played by the Coast Guard and Homeland Security, plus the full cooperation and involvement on the Ontario side, have made patrolling the vast open water stretches more efficient.

“It’s not a big problem right now,” he said. “With these different agencies monitoring it, not much goes undetected.”

The Adco II got caught with its hands in the walleye cookie jar twice in May, and the owners of the craft were recently slapped with a $5,000 fine for those escapades. Ottawa County Municipal Court in Port Clinton handled the case.

Barna said the gill net tug was first caught with five nets in Ohio waters on May 5 near North Bass, and then got snared again just four days later when it placed five nets south of Middle Sister Island. The Coast Guard monitored the gill nets during the night and boarded the vessel the next morning.

The Pisces Fisheries operators faced two charges of possessing gill nets in Ohio, and two charges were filed for fishing with commercial nets in Ohio without a commercial license

Barna said in both cases “very few fish” were in the nets at the time of the incidents. The nets and anchors were confiscated as evidence in the case.

“This was a great multiagency response,” Barna said. “Gill nets have not been a major issue on Lake Erie in recent years because of the cooperation with other agencies. Ohio’s resources are better protected.”

FALL HUNTING DATES: The Ohio Wildlife Council is reviewing the proposed dates for the upcoming fall hunting seasons, as suggested by Division of Wildlife biologists. The fall squirrel and dove hunting seasons would open Sept. 1, with the upland game hunting seasons for cottontail rabbit, ring-necked pheasant and bobwhite quail opening Nov. 1. A Nov. 10 start is proposed for fox, raccoon, skunk, opossum, and weasel hunting and trapping seasons.

The ODNR wildlife biologists also proposed that the 2014 wild turkey season dates would be April 21-May 18. Quail hunting would be open in Adams, Athens, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Highland, Jackson, Meigs, Montgomery, Pike, Preble, Ross, Scioto, Vinton, and Warren counties.

The proposals concerning Ohio's white-tailed deer and fall wild turkey hunting season will be heard at the Ohio Wildlife Council meeting on Feb. 6.

Open houses will be held on March 2 at the state's five wildlife district offices to give the public an opportunity to view and discuss proposed hunting and trapping regulations with the ODNR Division of Wildlife officials. For Ohioans who are unable to attend an open house, comments will be accepted online at wildohio.com.

A statewide hearing on the proposed rules will be held at the ODNR Division of Wildlife’s District One office on March 7 at 9 a.m. After reviewing public input, the Ohio Wildlife Council will vote on the proposed rules and season dates during its April 3 meeting.

MUZZLELOADER HARVEST: Hunters checked 21,555 white-tailed deer during the 2013 muzzleloader season, which concluded on Jan. 8. That is a 12 percent increase over the 19,251 deer checked in the 2012 season.

The highest number of checked deer during the muzzleloader season came in Guernsey (821), Coshocton (813), Tuscarawas (784), Muskingum (751), Belmont (739), Carroll (683), Harrison (677), Licking (675), Jefferson (619), and Knox (520) counties.

The Northwest Ohio harvest numbers, with the first number following the county’s name showing the harvest numbers for 2013, and the 2012 numbers shown in parentheses, are: Crawford: 95 (103); Defiance: 107 (140); Erie: 56 (42); Fulton: 50 (58); Hancock: 102 (111); Hardin: 110 (141); Henry: 34 (68); Huron: 177 (173); Lucas: 41 (31); Ottawa: 40 (37); Paulding: 83 (122); Putnam: 30 (56); Sandusky: 66 (72); Seneca: 149 (142); Van Wert: 41 (91); Williams: 110 (166); Wood: 57 (40), and Wyandot: 126 (136).

The archery season for white-tailed deer is open through Feb. 3


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