Tighter restrictions pass for Erie netters

From StaffWire Reports

Columbus – As was expected, a vote on new legislation to
regulate Ohio’s commercial fishing industry came down to the final
day of the legislative session for state lawmakers.

But unlike a previous bill that proposed a buyout of Lake Erie’s
commercial fishing industry but stalled on the table last fall, the
new version passed through the legislative process. It was
sponsored by Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland.

The House of Representatives on June 27 voted 72-25 in favor of
the bill, which puts tighter regulations on the lake’s yellow perch
fishing fleet without shutting down the industry. The Senate in May
voted 32-0 in favor of the bill. Gov. Ted Strickland signed the
legislation, which now goes into effect in 90 days.

‘In the end, it’s going to do good things for the Lake Erie
fishery and that’s what is most important,’ said Ray Petering, the
DNR Division of Wildlife’s chief fisheries manager. ‘It would have
been irresponsible of us to say ‘this is too hard, we’ll just leave
things the way they are.’ That resource up there is too
important.’

The political maneuvering over the past year involving the
commercial fishing industry arose out of a series of felony
racketeering convictions that involved the underreporting of 40
tons of yellow perch. Some cases are still pending.

The original legislation would have provided $4 million in
general fund money to buy out the remaining 12 license holders.

Still, one lawmaker who voted against the new bill predicted it
would lead to the death of the commercial fishing industry.

Rep. Chris Redfern, a Democrat from Catawba Island, said
re-writing the laws governing commercial fishing is the wrong
approach to rein in the industry and he predicted that the new
legislation would ‘create the death of the commercial fishing
industry through a thousand cuts.’

‘I believe if we focused on enforcement rather than punitive
measures to kill the industry we would better be able to manage the
resource,’ Redfern said.

DNR Director Sean Logan said the bill addresses ‘an important
issue to the health of Ohio’s great lake’ and gives authorities
important new management tools to deal with commercial fisheries on
Lake Erie.

Addressing previously stated concerns from earlier hearings,
Logan said he approved of language in the legislation that would
have prohibited those with felony convictions from receiving future
commercial permits. That provision, however, was thrown out in the
final version of the bill, meaning that even those who were
convicted of felonies related to commercial fishing in the past get
a clean slate with the new legislation.

Under the new law, the chief of the DNR Division of Wildlife has
the right to revoke the permit of any license holder convicted of a
fishing related felony. Three misdemeanor convictions for fishing
related crimes will also be subject for license revocation.

‘We’re hoping to push them for more compliant behavior with
that,’ Petering said.

The law also requires commercial operators to file daily catch
reports rather than monthly and to install GPS tracking devices on
their boats.

The new law creates an advisory board made up of commercial
fishermen, sport fishermen, the DNR and state lawmakers. The board
is expected to issue a report on Lake Erie fisheries management by
the end of the year in an attempt to get all the interested parties
speaking the same language.

Larry Mitchell, president of the League of Ohio Sportsmen, and
Bob Collins, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association,
said their organizations supported the bill because it offers sound
policy to conserve the state’s natural resources.

In House hearings leading up to the late June vote, several
opponents of the bill continued to make the case that the
legislation went too far and would severely curtail or end the
commercial perch industry in Ohio. Joe Smith of Sandusky asked the
panel to delay action on the bill to provide more time for the
industry and the DNR to strike a preferable compromise.

In its current form, he said, the bill ‘threatens the survival
of our industry and I do not believe for a minute that (Division of
Wildlife) officials have any intention of moving us to areas of
better fishing and profitability.

‘I understand the need for tighter regulations and assurances
that compliance will happen,’ he added. ‘But, I feel this bill
would allow for people to be put out of business over minor
violations or circumstances beyond their control. The three-strike
provision could easily be misused by overzealous and/or vindictive
DOW personnel.’

Petering said violations that fall under the three strikes rule
are restricted to the illegal killing of fish or the misreporting
of data. He dismissed the idea that accidental violations could
eventually lead to a license revocation.

‘None of that stuff that’s under the three strikes rule is
anything you’ll do by accident,’ he said. ‘If you violate any of
those provisions, you will have done it purposely. It’s hard to be
real sympathetic on that.’

Grendell, the bill’s sponsor, said the three-strike penalty is
warranted.

‘Frankly, I get one strike and I’m out,’ said Grendell,
referring to his license to practice law. ‘It’s that way in a lot
of businesses.’

Information from the Gongwer News Service was used in this
report.

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