PORT CLINTON - The state's three-year Lake Erie yellow perch racketeering investigation "raises serious questions about the future of commercial fishing on the lake," Gov. Bob Taft said here yesterday.
The governor stopped short of getting on board with the recently introduced House Bill 609, which proposes to buy out the state's remaining 18 commercial trapnet licenses, held by about a dozen fishermen, for $4 million in general funds.
But he said that the proposal was something for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and its wildlife division to consider in the coming months. He simply called for "sensible fishing policies."
H.B. 609 has not yet has its first committeee hearing and faces a very short legislative session after summer recess. Lawmakers are expected to spend much of their pre-November election time on the campaign trail.
Fines of $360,000 and suspended felony jail sentences have been handed down to a handful of individuals and businesses in two racketeering cases, and more cases are pending.
State Rep. Jim McGregor (R., Gahanna), sponsor of the bill, said that "the ODNR and division of wildlife should not have to bear the expense of the buyout. I think it's got a good shot." He noted the precedent set in 1982 with the buyout of the Lake Erie commercial gillnet fishery.
"If the leadership decides to pass it, we'll pass it this year," McGregor said. He considers the proposal fair, legitimate, and a way to let commercial fishermen "land on their feet."
The foregoing remarks came on the 27th annual Governor's Fish Ohio Day, which annually is aimed at promoting sport fishing and tourism on the lakeshore. About 70 persons from state government, regional tourism and sport fishing interests, and the outdoors media attended.
Taft, who served a double term as chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, called Lake Erie "a national treasure, and Ohio treasure. It's unique.
"This is absolutely the best Fish Ohio Day I've ever had," he stated, noting that he caught a personal best one-trip total of five walleye, one short of a daily limit. It is his last such event as governor. The day is sponsored by the Ottawa County Visitors Bureau, Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, the Ohio Division of Wildlife, and a host of area businesses.
Warming to the occasion, the governor stated: "Lake Erie is the best location anywhere for freshwater sport fishing."
Indeed, the lake is seeing the best spring and early summer fishing in at least 15 years. Yesterday 5 of 14 boats in the gubenatorial entourage took limits of walleye, some in as little as 3 1/4 hours.
Mike Matta, one of the LECBA skippers who donated his boat and time to the day, accepts the present 22-mile run from his home marina at East Harbor State Park in trade for good fishing action.
"There are tons of bigger fish out there, if you are by yourself," he noted.
Sunday night, while scouting for Fish Ohio Day, Matta's crew took two walleye larger than 24 inches, many 22 inchers, several 20s, and "a few 17s." Saturday his boat landed a walleye of 317/8 inches.
Casters are relying heavily on "mayfly rigs" with hammered gold blades.
Most of the boats yesterday worked near the Ontario line, within sight of commercial Canadian gillnet tugs just below Middle Sister Island. A huge school of active walleye is prowling that area, as attested to by the presence of a sizable sport fishing "pack" and the Ontario netters.
The governor asserted that the lake and its fishery are a "powerful impetus" to the Ohio economy, with one of every three tourism dollars being spent in lakeshore counties.
In preliminaries to the governor's address, Larry Fletcher, executive director of the visitors burau, noted that the Wal-Mart store at Port Clinton sells more sport fishing licenses than any other Wal-Mart in the country.
As a footnote, Sam Speck, director of the ODNR, lost a gentleman's bet to the governor, having landed four walleye to the governor's five. The payback is that Speck is supposed to empty the trash from the governor's office for a week.
Quipped Speck: "Never take a bet you know you're going to win."
The 24th annual Toledo Police Walleye Tournament, held Saturday, was won by the team of Larry Bailey, skipper, and Greg Zattau and Dave Vogt.
The trio entered five walleye weighing 15.8 pounds, including an event-topping fish of 7.1 pounds, said event recorder Jim Dec. Other teams in the top five of a 13-boat field, led by the team captain, include:
Second, Dave Martin, Brent Scoble, Jim Dec, and Todd Miller, 15.3 pounds and the largest sheepshead, 10.8 pounds.
Third, Pete Sifuentes, Jimmy Woo, and Duke Rybarczyk, 14 pounds.
Fourth, John Stewart, Mike Stewart, Dave Durrant, Brian Gaylord, 13.1 pounds.
Fifth, Ed Palinski, Rick Reed, Lou Borucki, Dale Peatee, 12.11 pounds.
Dec said that most teams fished between West Sister and Middle Sister islands.