Ohio chief: DNR’s law enforcement division not merging
Ohio Division of Wildlife chief Mike Miller has gone on the defensive against claims that the agency is attempting to dissolve its vital Lake Erie Law Enforcement Unit.
This perceived threat, critics say, would come about through increasing reliance on elements of the Ohio DNR’s Parks and Watercraft Division law enforcement wing. The assertion stems from charges that the natural resources department – and by extension, the Wildlife Division – has been over-working the Lake Erie law section, and also failing to adequately supply the necessary manpower to watch over both commercial and recreational fishing on Ohio’s share of Lake Erie, the state’s 200-plus miles of shoreline, as well looking out for the rest of Ohio’s north coast natural resources.
Most recently, alarmists have sounded that Miller has met with officials attached to the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association in an effort to solicit support for a major overhaul of the Wildlife Division’s Lake Erie law enforcement unit.
Miller denies that he has told the LECBA that new Lake Erie law enforcement protocols are in the works, saying only that a free exchange of ideas between the state and the president of the group was recently conducted.
That take was seconded by the LECBA’s president, Paul Pacholoski. The LECBA represents many Lake Erie Western Basin charter captains,
“We are not going to merge with anyone nor begin replacing any Wildlife Division staff with officers from Parks and Watercraft,” Miller said. “It hasn’t happened. It’s not happening. It’s not going to happen.”
Miller did say that the Lake Erie Law Enforcement Unit is now – at least temporarily – being supervised from the agency’s Wildlife District Two (Northwest Ohio) Office in Findlay. That is because Wildlife Division law enforcement official Jeff Collingwood had requested to return to the District Two office where can supervise both that segment’s law enforcement section along with the Lake Erie section, Miller said.
“It’s an experiment that’s been discussed before to see if it can work in the future, and it has been working for the past six months,” Miller said.
Similarly, Miller says, the current staff of six Wildlife Division law enforcement officers will continue to use as their bases of operation both the agency’s offices in Sandusky as well as Fairport Harbor.
“Lake Erie has always been a priority for us,” Miller said, noting too that the agency has filled three Lake Erie fisheries biologists vacancies in recent times.
“We’ve often pulled officers from other parts of the state to work enforcement projects like the walleye runs on the Maumee River or when the fishing is really going strong on Erie and during the ice-fishing season,” Miller added.
As for talk that the Wildlife Division will increasingly rely on Parks and Watercraft Division law enforcement officers instead of its own crew of commissioned personnel, Miller said it only makes sense to partner together and utilize each others physical assets in order to comb the lake’s vast open waters.
“That’s a benefit for both of us,” he said.
Pacholski said he met with Miller recently to go over Lake Erie’s international quota system along with possible future changes to walleye limits, the upcoming changes to non-resident Ohio fishing license fees, as well as increasing fish and habitat studies in the Maumee River and its embayment.
“As always, we at LECBA strongly support the Sandusky office for both its enforcement and fishery management program,” Pacholoski told Ohio Outdoor News. “(The) LECBA is always glad to partner with the Ohio DNR to protect the Lake Erie fishery.”
Pacholoski said, too, that “different ideas were thrown out by both myself and the chief, none of which involved drastically altering the agencies law enforcement unit or combining agencies.”
“With our skyrocketing population of walleyes, we feel their protection for the future is extremely important. A strong enforcement presence for both the commercial and sportfishing industry in Ohio has always been one of our issues,” Pacholoski said. “I must reiterate, these were just ideas.”