Feds probe Great Lakes commercial fishing

L’ANSE — A two-year federal undercover operation into illegal fishing on Lake Superior has resulted in a series of recent raids, involving three northern Michigan fish markets and their fishing operations, the ABC 10/CW 5 News has learned.

Plus, the special agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Division (LED) also raided an international fish distributing company in Northeast Wisconsin.

A federal search warrant and criminal complaints recently filed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service LED show that the Fish and Wildlife Service set up a bogus fishing company on tribal land in Baraga County that was used to buy fish from those under investigation.

The targets included members of numerous tribes in Wisconsin and Michigan, including the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa Indians and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. The investigation also includes non-natives.

That sting involved creating the bogus Upper Peninsula North Fish Company on US-41 in L’Anse — in a building with a history of being a fish-buying business — and located on the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community reservation. The investigation involves millions of pounds of illegally caught fish on the Great Lakes including Lake Huron, Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. The fish include sturgeon, lake trout and walleye.

It’s unclear if KBIC officials knew the fishing operation was a front to nab those illegally selling.

The fishing operations raided over the past two weeks and included in these criminal complaints are:

  • Peterson’s Fish Market in Hancock plus two 50-foot fishing vessels owned by the Petersons: the Three Suns and the Charleen.
  • The Beaver Island Fresh Fish Market in Beaver Island whose owner – George “Skip” Duhamel – died this past July during the probe, according to federal search warrants.
  • Agents also raided the John Cross Fish Market in downstate Charlevoix – owned and operated by John Cross and his son, John “Jack” Cross III.

Meanwhile, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agents raided an international fish distributing company doing business under several names in the Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin area.

Agents raided Dan Schwarz’s business –  Dan’s Fish, Inc. at 152 Jib St. Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Agents say businesses run by Dan Schwarz include Great Lakes Gold (GLG), Dan’s Fish, Sturgeon Bay Cold Storage (SBCS) and has a sister company Seafood International (SI) in Estonia. All four entities maintain a relationship with each other, functioning as different aspects of a seafood buying and exporting business, federal agents stated in their warrants.

 

Patrick Miles

A statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Patrick A. Miles, Jr. in Grand Rapids, Michigan that was read over the phone to (WBUP/WBKP TV 5/10) ABC 10 CW 5 office:

No recording was allowed of the statement, and it was dictated by a member of the federal prosecutor’s media staff.

“On Nov. 5, 2014 , U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service agents executed search warrants at various locations in northern Michigan and Northeastern Wisconsin (that are or were holders of) holding wholesaler records of fish taken from lakes Michigan and Superior,” the statement reads “The searches are pursuant to an investigation into potential violations of the Lacey Act.”

U.S. Attorney Patrick A. Miles, Jr. – the chief federal prosecutor for the Western District of Michigan including the Upper Peninsula – and “representatives of the Justice Department Environment and Natural Resources Division are communicating with state, tribal and fed. law enforcement representatives and look forward to working with them as partners in maintaining and safeguarding a healthy fishery.”

“Given the ongoing nature of the investigation, no further comment will be offered at this time,” the official statement said.

The Lacey Act is “federal conservation law that prohibits interstate trade in wildlife – such as fish – that have been taken, possessed, and transported or sold in violation of a federal, state or tribal law,” the statement said.

The Lacey Act “prohibits making false statements or records regarding fish and wildlife that are to be shipped in interstate commerce.,” the statement concluded.

These businesses hold wholesaler records of fish taken from Lakes Michigan and Superior and the investigation involves “potential violations of the Lacey Act.” The justice department “is communicating with state, tribal and federal law enforcement representatives and look forward to working with them as partners in maintaining and safeguarding a healthy fishery,” the statement reads.

“The Lacey Act is a federal conservation law that prohibits interstate trade in wildlife such as fish that have been taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of a federal, state or tribal law,” the statement continues. “The Lacey Act prohibits making false statements or records regarding fish and wildlife that are to be shipped in interstate commerce.”

The investigation focuses on the illegal trafficking of nearly all edible species of fish from the Great Lakes – where Lake trout populations have been dangerously low due to over–harvest and the invasion of sea lampreys that prey upon those lake trout.

The feds have spent millions trying to increase Lake Trout numbers including lamprey removal, and strict trout harvest quotas.

In the documents, federal officials said the investigation demonstrates the illegal commercialization of lake trout and other fish species from Lake Superior and nearby Great Lakes. The “extensive undercover operation” investigated the illegal trafficking and false reporting of fish harvested from Lake Superior, northern Lake Michigan and western Lake Huron.