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Published: Tuesday, 10/25/2005

Illegal fish ring is due more punishment

Some 940 pounds of frozen yellow perch fillets have been donated to the Cleveland Food Bank as a result of guilty pleas in the first round of prosecutions in what has been described as the two biggest cases of illegal Lake Erie commercial fish marketing in Ohio Division of Wildlife history.

Last week Roy Greene, 45, of Vermilion and Joseph Smith, 36, and Smith Fisheries, Inc., both of Sandusky, pleaded guilty to theft and Vito Ernande, 47, and Darlene Ernande, 44, both of Vermilion, pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.

The court in turn ordered the perch fillets, seized from Westerwater Fisheries, Inc., which is owned by the Ernandes, to be forfeited to the the state. The haul was turned over to the food bank. The wildlife division said the donation could feed up to 2,500 individuals and has the potential to serve at least 250 soup kitchens, shelters and hot-meal sites.

"That's a bunch of fish," said Kevin Ramsey, Lake Erie law enforcement supervisor for the state wildlife division. He said that Smith Fisheries has agreed to pay $70,000, but additional sentencings are set for tomorrow.

"This is just the first volley; there's more to come," Ramsey noted. "It's not over. They're going to get something else."

In June several commercial fishermen and wholesale fish sellers in Port Clinton, Sandusky, Vermilion, and Cleveland were named by a Cuyahoga County grand jury in two series of indictments, totaling 23 felony counts, in connection with long-term illegal marketing of the prized yellow perch.

The marketing scam under investigation revolved around overfishing of quotas set on certain licenses, then failing to report and marketing the over-quota fish. Thousands of pounds of perch, which the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office has said were worth $755,000, are alleged to have been involved in the marketing.

Lake Erie's yellow perch have been managed by a quota system since 1996, with quotas set to strike a balance between the catch by sport anglers and commercial netters. Ramsey said a second round of trials currently is scheduled to begin Dec. 5. The cases involve netting and marketing between 2001 and 2003.

It may be the year of the rooster on the Chinese calendar, but it is the year of the turkey vulture if you follow the annual migrations of raptors, or birds of prey, in the western Lake Erie region.

Between Sept. 1 and Sunday, a total of nearly 100,000 vultures passed over watch-sites at Lake Erie Metropark and Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, both along the lake close to the Detroit River northeast of Monroe.

That tally includes a single-day record of 43,280 vultures on Oct. 9, according to Calvin Brennan, who logs daily counts for Southeastern Michigan Raptor Research. The prior single-day-record vulture passage was some 12,000 birds and the prior season mark, 73,886, was set in 2003.

The SMRR raptor watch continues daily through Nov. 30, so a final season tally in excess of 100,000 vultures is all but assured. As of Sunday the season tally was 98,988.

Through Sunday SMRR had logged 207,731 birds of prey among 17 species, led by the vultures. Typically, broad-winged hawks lead the raptor parade because they migrate en masse under ideal weather conditions. Clearly conditions have favored the vultures this year.

In a related note, a pair of ospreys that nested and raised young at Ohio's Alum Creek Lake in Delaware County have reached wintering grounds in Brazil, the Ohio Division of Wildlife said.

The birds' 3,500-mile migration to the Amazon River basin has been tracked by satellite transmitters that were attached to the pair in the summer in a migration study. Currently the birds are separated by 300 miles. Their movements can be monitored on the state Web site, www.ohiodnr.com/wildlife/resources/osprey/migration.htm.

A record 37 pairs of ospreys, which once were called fish hawks, produced 62 chicks, up from 47 chicks from 30 nests in 2004. The state began a reintroduction program in 1996. Previously the last known osprey nest in Ohio was at Buckeye Lake in 1941.

V.J. Huffman, a deer hunter from Point Place, passed along a worthwhile highway safety tip involving deer - flash your headlights at oncoming traffic when you spy deer in a field or woodlot near a road. Some drivers may not be certain exactly what it is you are warning them about, but it should perk up their alert-levels a notch or two.

Huffman said that the practice is becoming standard up where he hunts on his farm in Hillsdale County, Mich. It is a good idea, and it deserves to be circulated.

We encountered several road-killed deer Saturday while collecting litter - "ditchpigging" - along State Rt. 2 in front of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and Magee Marsh State Wildlife Area with a crew from Black Swamp Bird Observatory. The roadkills were a serious reminder especially now on the eve of the rut and during corn harvest, when deer are hyperactive.



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