For several Lake Erie commercial fishermen, this year could be their last one on the lake.
State senators passed a bill last week that would allow the director of the Ohio Division of Wildlife to deny the fishermen the right to renew their licenses next year if they’ve ever been convicted of a fishing felony. But since a massive perch-poaching bust in 2005 that resulted in theft charges for many fishermen and wholesalers [“The Battle For Lake Erie
,” September 6, 2006], that could wipe out more than half the industry. And it’s got commercial fishermen crying double-jeopardy.
“You’re passing a new law to go back and punish a person who committed a crime,” says fisherman Dean Koch, who was never charged in the scandal. “It’s highly unconstitutional.”
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Tim Grendell of Chester Township, says there’s nothing illegal about the bill, because it doesn’t take away the fishermen’s current licenses, it just makes it impossible for them to get a new one. It’s no different than a law taking school-bus drivers with previous DUIs off the road, he says.
“A couple of those guys from that [poaching] case are still having heartburn,” says Grendell. “You should be allowed to stay in business as long as you obey the rules.”
But try telling an old fisherman that he has to go back to dry land. “When we settled our case last year, we paid restitution, we paid a fine. Our deal at that time was, ‘OK, we’re done,’” says Rich Stinson, owner of Port Clinton Fisheries. If this bill goes through, Stinson says, “everything you worked for is gone.” – Jared Klaus