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Law enforcement officials with the Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources just concluded a multi-state, years long investigation into the poaching and over-harvesting of hundreds of lake whitefish from the Menominee River. Officials from Michigan and Wisconsin confirmed violations on the river with the logistical help of Illinois DNR officers, according to a recent press release from the Wisconsin DNR.  The investigation, which began in 2019, resulted in 29 citations being issued to 13 individuals. 

“Our joint investigation found these violators were organized, strategic, and intentional,” said DNR marine warden Jeff Lautenslager. “The lake whitefish in this river are particularly vulnerable during the late-year months. They congregate in the up-river systems in Wisconsin every fall for their annual spawn.”

Eleven of the violators were from Illinois, while one was from Michigan and one from Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin DNR, most of them were repeat offenders. Twenty-nine citations were issued and 91 fish were seized and confiscated. The court also ordered a total of 24 years of rights revocations.

Most of the citations were for exceeding the daily bag limit of whitefish, intentionally snagging fish, and failing to release improperly hooked fish. The poachers who received the citations were part of an “organized attack” on lake whitefish, according to the DNR. The department became aware of their efforts in 2019, but the investigation really got into full swing across the three states in 2020 and 2021. 

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“The DNR wardens and investigators, in this case, remain hopeful the removal of these numerous violators will make room for the legal and ethical individuals who enjoy viewing and legally fishing lake whitefish. The laws we have are specifically to protect this valued and vulnerable fish species,” Lautenslager said.

It’s worth noting that during the course of this investigation, Michigan DNR officers also came across a separate group of Michigan residents who were hunting at night using a spotlight to shine and shoot deer in the area. This is illegal according to the artificial light section of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection act. These individuals were also hunting without a license.