Sturgeon Bay, Wis. — A Door County company that distributes seafood around the world found itself at the center of a multi-state investigation into alleged violations of the Lacey Act when it was served a federal search warrant Nov. 5.
Investigators seized invoices, notes, inventory records, and other documents, along with computer and phone records.
State and federal officials have been tight-lipped on the possible illegal sale of lake trout and walleyes harvested in lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron, but a 31-page federal search warrant application filed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Steve Stoinski of the agency’s New Franken office near Green Bay tells one side of the tale.
Specifically, the warrant states that Dan Schwarz and his business, Dan’s Fish, Inc., “knowingly received, acquired, purchased, sold, transported, or exported” walleyes and lean lake trout, and made false records about their sale.
Acting on tips about possible illegal trafficking and false reporting of fish like lake trout, walleyes, whitefish, pike, and sturgeon, the USFWS set up an undercover wholesale fishing business in August 2012 called the Upper Peninsula North Fish Company in L’Anse, Mich.
It “closed” last November, but federal agents continued to make fish purchases through September of this year.
During the investigation, investigators posing as employees made more than 550 purchases of fish. About 400 involved illegal fish, they say. Approximately 51 sales were made to Schwarz’s company, totaling about 94,000 pounds of fish. Of that, about 44,500 pounds were allegedly illegal purchases, many of them lake trout, the document says.
Stoinski said lake trout populations in the Great Lakes have been dangerously low due to overfishing and the invasion of sea lampreys, and that illegal commercial trafficking could negatively impact ongoing recovery efforts that include fish stocking, lamprey control, and strict harvest limits.
Federal agents made audio recordings of Schwarz and one of his buyers. Some of the fish purchased allegedly came from licensed commercial fishermen, which is illegal under tribal law. Some untagged trout – illegal fish – were allegedly purchased from tribal fishermen. Illegal walleye purchases also were allegedly made from an unlicensed wholesaler.
The warrant states that Schwarz willingly purchased fish he was told had been transported or sold in violation of either tribal or Michigan state law. It also documented past infractions going back nearly 20 years with complaints about illegally buying and selling chub roe, failing to accurately report transactions, and underreporting yellow perch purchases.
In a statement issued Nov. 6, Dan’s Fish, Inc., said it “takes great pride in the way it has always openly and honestly conducted its business, and is in full compliance with all state and federal laws.”
Schwarz assured the DNR his company will cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation to root out any regulatory violations, and stated that no local restaurant or wholesale buyer is part of this regulatory issue.
“We will continue to serve our community and the environment for many years to come,” he said in the statement.
The website for Dan’s Fish (http://www.fullfish.net/dansfish) says the company processes, distributes, exports, and imports seafood from all over the world.
The Lacey Act is the nation’s oldest wildlife-protection law. Established in 1900, it prohibits trafficking in “tainted,” or contraband fish and wildlife, as well as making false records about fish and wildlife.