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Action needs to be taken in illegal fishing case

March 10, 2010
Daily Press

It is said that the wheels of justice turn slowly. In the case of six people who allegedly conducted illegal commercial fishing operations on Little Bay de Noc, though, it seems justice has come to a standstill.

It has been more than a year since the six people - five members of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and one Delta County resident - were accused of illegally selling walleye taken from the bay in waters ceded to Native American tribes in the Treaty of 1836. The case came to a head after an extensive investigation by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment in 2009. Investigators were tipped off due to an unusually high amount of walleye being sold in the wholesale fish market.

It is estimated more than 94,000 pounds of game fish were taken from the bay during the winters of 2004-2009. That's quite a blow to the natural resources of the bay.

Three entities - the state, Tribe, and federal government - have been involved in this case. Friday, after more than a year, the U.S. Attorney General's office announced it will not seek action in the case. Officials said only the five tribes which entered into a consent decree with the U.S. and the state in 2000 can enforce fishing rules against tribal members.

This seems like a very simplistic conclusion to come to, considering the U.S. Attorney General's office has had more than a year to reach some sort of decision. It seems action could have - and should have - been taken long before this.

Too much time has been spent on this case trying to decide who is going to do what, when. Perhaps it is time for one of the parties involved - the state, the Tribe, or the federal government - to step up and try to resolve this issue.

Currently, the DNRE is exploring legal options with the Michigan Attorney General's Office. It is commendable the state is not dropping this issue. We hope, however, that this case is not allowed to collect dust while state officials decide exactly what they are going to do. More than a year has past. It's time to put this one on the front burner.

In the time that has passed, the six people who allegedly conducted the illegal fishing operation have been kept in limbo while authorities decide what to do. Circumstances really don't seem to fit the mold of a speedy trial as these individuals wait to see what will ultimately happen.

Also kept waiting are all of those people who have a vested interest in the resources and well-being of the Bays de Noc. The thousands of pounds of fish taken from the bay has impacted them all - from the weekend angler to the business person who depends on the bay to attract tourists to the area.

In the end, we are all impacted by what happens to the bay. It provides recreation to many. To others, it is vital to their economic well-being. If the bay is harmed, we are all harmed.

The lack of action in this case seems to send a message to those who would take advantage of the bay - that there really are not any severe ramifications for doing so.

Is that really the message we want to send?

Don't let another year go by. This issue needs to be resolved.



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