SPRINGFIELD – An Indiana man has pleaded guilty to importing more than 2,600 pounds of live channel catfish into Illinois without a permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the agency announced.
Importing fish or other animals without permission poses a risk to the state’s native wildlife populations.
Michael Sullivan of Griffith, Indiana, entered a negotiated guilty plea in October to one count of importing live fish without a permit. The case was filed in Will County, Illinois, following an investigation by the Illinois Conservation Police Invasive Species Unit. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Will County state’s attorney prosecuted the case.
Investigators determined Sullivan imported the fish into a Plainfield lake during three separate occasions in 2021. The fish were purchased in Mississippi and Alabama.
IDNR staff reviews and provides free importation permits to importers with tested and disease-free fish. Channel castfish are one species that is susceptible to viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), which can decimate fish populations.
“While VHS has been found in the Great Lakes, currently we have not detected this disease outside of Lake Michigan in Illinois,” said Kevin Irons, assistant chief of fisheries at IDNR.
Most people within the fish transportation industry comply with IDNR regulations, said Conservation Police Officer Brandon Fehrenbacher, who works in the Invasive Species Unit.
“Importing and stocking untested fish significantly increases the risks to our resources and undercuts others within the industry abiding by the law,” he said. “These types of conservation offenses can be complex and time consuming in an already overburdened court system. IDNR is grateful the Illinois Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Bureau and the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office dedicated the time and resources required to prosecute this case.”
Sullivan received 24 months court supervision and $227 in fines and court fees. He was ordered to perform 30 hours of community service and pay $10,500 in restitution to the IDNR Conservation Police Operations Assistance Fund.
“I appreciate the partnership of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Will County state’s attorney as we worked to hold this individual accountable for illegally importing live fish and jeopardizing our environment,” said Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. “Our state’s ecosystems and natural resources are delicate and should be preserved for years to come.”