COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife recently concluded an investigation into reports that Lake Fish Company of Sandusky illegally took walleyes that were supposed to be donated to a Sandusky charity in 2021. After an investigation uncovered that 112 walleyes, one steelhead, one yellow perch, and three whitefish were stolen, five defendants pleaded guilty in the case to a total of 13 misdemeanor charges of petty theft, one count of fifth-degree felony theft, two misdemeanor counts of receiving stolen property, and nine misdemeanor commercial fish violations.
The defendants (Craig Carr, 55, of Oak Harbor; Dale Trent, 59, of Port Clinton; Thelma Towner, 69, of Sandusky; Stanley Swain, 55, of Milan; and Lake Fish Company in Sandusky) are scheduled to pay a combined $24,120 in restitution to the charitable organization set to receive the stolen fish, and another $13,000 in restitution to the Division of Wildlife. Additionally, the commercial fish processor will have their wholesale fish license suspended for 30 days. Sentencing has been scheduled for November.
Many walleye tournaments that occur on Lake Erie donate harvested fish to a local charity organization to support those in need. Additionally, the Division of Wildlife donates walleye caught in regular sampling surveys and those seized as evidence to the same organization. A commercial fish processor is paid to clean donated fish and return the ready-to-cook fillets to the charity. The Division of Wildlife began an investigation into Lake Fish Company in 2021 after the agency received a report that donated fish were stolen by the company and its employees.
An initial investigation revealed evidence of theft. In November 2021, the Lake Erie law enforcement unit of the Division of Wildlife executed a search warrant and seized video surveillance, fish processing records, and fish packages and carcasses.
The Division of Wildlife thanks Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Baxter and Assistant Prosecutor Dean Holman of the Erie County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for prosecuting the case. Additionally, the Division of Wildlife thanks the Erie County Sheriff’s Office for assistance serving summonses and indictments. Finally, the Division of Wildlife appreciates the victim’s cooperation with the investigation.
Ohio wildlife officers have statewide authority to enforce wildlife regulations and protect state lands, waterways, and property. As state law enforcement officers, they contribute to public safety in their local areas and Ohio’s great outdoors. They also speak to hundreds of clubs and groups about conservation and wildlife programs, perform fish and wildlife surveys, and provide technical advice and instruction about wildlife management issues, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor related recreation.
Anyone who witnesses a wildlife violation in Ohio can call 1-800-POACHER (1-800-762-2437). Reports are kept anonymous.
The mission of the Division of Wildlife is to conserve and improve fish and wildlife resources and their habitats for sustainable use and appreciation by all. Visit wildohio.gov to find out more.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.