MN: Illegal tribal netting case erupts in Red, Leech lake areas
St. Paul – Federal prosecutors are reviewing evidence seized as part of an investigation into claims of the illegal netting and sale of walleyes in the Leech Lake and Red Lake reservation areas of northern Minnesota.
Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials were involved in an operation during the weekend after receiving claims of illegal walleye netting and sales.
"The illegal netting and sale of fish will not be tolerated," Jeanne F. Cooney, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office in Minneapolis, said. "The federal government will vigorously investigate these recent claims, and if warranted, will bring charges against those involved."
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they couldn't comment on the pending investigation.
Cooney said prosecutors are reviewing evidence secured during the investigation, and that charges may be filed in the near future.
She wouldn't identify the lakes on which the illegal netting is suspected, saying only they're in the Leech Lake and Red Lake areas.
Tuesday, a Leech Lake tribal member, who asked not to be named, called what transpired a "sting operation," and that the matter involved "black market walleye activity."
He said Leech Lake band members only are allowed to net walleyes for personal, "subsistence" purposes per a 1972 agreement with the state of Minnesota. Local anglers and others believe walleye harvest for commercial reasons has been ongoing on lakes fished by Leech Lake members for a couple years, and that the matter has been under investigation for some time.
"We've had federal and state investigators up here for a few years collecting evidence on netters," the tribal member said.
Local bait shop owner Ben Kellin, of Ben's Bait and Tackle in Grand Rapids, said he suspected something big was occurring when on Saturday morning six marked conservation officer vehicles – and others not marked – passed by the shop. At the time, Kellin said he was watching a developing thunderstorm.
Kellin said he believes the illegal walleyes being investigated may have come from lakes such as Leech, Cass, Winnibigoshish, and others.
He said rumors have circulated for more than a year about illegal activity in the area.
"Anyone who fishes Winnie is aware of what's going on around here," Kellin said.