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Michigan man sentenced in federal court for fish trafficking


April 8, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS — Federal Department of Justice officials announced the sentences of a downstate Michigan man in a wild fish trafficking case last week.

John Cross and John Cross Fisheries Inc., of Kalamazoo, were sentenced for trafficking in illegally transporting and selling lake trout, according to a department news release, and Cross Fisheries was also sentenced for making false records about whitefish purchases.

Cross was ordered to serve 12 months in prison intermittently over the course of a five-year probation, according to the release, while Cross Fisheries was sentenced to five years of probation.

Both were ordered to pay $1,032,132 in restitution to the National Fish Hatcheries, according to the release, which stock trout in Lake Michigan.

Cross Fisheries also has to create and implement a compliance plan to prevent future violations.

Both defendants have previously pled guilty to one misdemeanor of violating the Lacey Act by selling interstate commerce lake trout when they should have known the fish was possessed and sold in violation of state law.

According to court records, between September 2011 and October 2013 the defendants repeatedly bought lake trout from “Fisherman A” — a tribal fisherman who fished from a boat had been “converted to trap net gear at taxpayers’ expense and thus could not lawfully harvest lake trout,” a DOJ spokesperson said in the release.

The defendants then recorded those purchases as coming from a fisherman who could harvest lake trout.

“Purchasing illegally caught fish for interstate sale and then covering up the source of those fish by falsifying records is cheating, plain and simple — and where discovered, the Justice Department will seek to punish such conduct,” Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark said in the release.” For three years, Cross Fisheries harmed law-abiding competitors and the American taxpayers who fund the stocking of Lake Michigan with trout, but that conduct has now come to an end.”

According to the Department of Justice, Cross Fisheries made approximately 42 purchases of these illegal lake trout, totaling 48,498 pounds in the two years between 2011 and 2013.

The sentencing is one of the final pending cases that came out of Operation Fishing for Funds — a two-year undercover operation by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, according to a department spokesperson.

The undercover operation primarily focused on the illegal harvest and sale of walleye and trout from the Great Lakes and involved starting a wholesale fish business in Baraga named Upper Peninsula North Fish Company that bought fish wholesale in the region.

“The federally funded stocking of fish and the regulations designed to preserve these natural and communal resources were simply treated as an opportunity for extra profit here and in other cases stemming from Operation Fishing for Funds. This was essentially stealing from competitors, the government, and ultimately the future,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said in the release.

The operation resulted in 21 convictions and over $1.6 million in restitution ordered to the National Fish Hatcheries and tribal hatcheries — the amount needed to stock enough hatchlings to replace the illegally harvested fish.

—Richard Jenkins


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