Amber Twp. fishery owner sent to prison for illegal fish deals.

December 20, 2017

Amber Twp. fishery owner sent to prison for illegal fish deals.

#MasonCountyCrime.

GRAND RAPIDS — An Amber Township man was sentenced Tuesday, Dec. 19, to four months in prison for illegally buying and selling Lake Michigan lake trout from a tribal fisherman.

George Eugene Schrink, 55, owner of Walters Gold Coast Fisheries, 4728 W. Sixth St., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a felony of false labeling of fish. He was also ordered to pay $270,276 in restitution. Judge Paul Maloney allowed Schrink to self-surrender to prison at the direction of federal authorities.

Schrink was caught by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service following a three-year undercover investigation. The government set up a covert business to buy and sell fish in the Upper Peninsula.

The Fish and Wildlife Service investigated reports that large numbers of lake trout, sturgeon and walleye were illegally taken. The government stated in court reports that the lake trout population is “dangerously low” because of over-harvest and sea lampreys,.

The lake trout population in Lake Michigan is maintained mostly by stocking.

The prosecution said Schrink bought lake trout from a tribal fisherman who had converted to trap nets and was not allowed to keep lake trout. In 2000, Michigan began to pay tribal fishermen up to $200,000 to use trap nets, which allow release of undersized lake trout, unlike gill nets, which kill fish. The purpose of the effort was to rebuild the lake trout population. Those who accepted the offer were prohibited from keeping lake trout.

In 2014, he bought at least 4,675 pounds of illegally harvested lake trout during a three-month period. In one of the three transactions, he bought 1,000 pounds of lake trout for $1 a pound, but he recorded a smaller amount of whitefish at $2.50 a pound, the prosecution stated. The restitution he was ordered to pay covered the cost of raising the lake trout.

“Each caught fish represents the culmination of an extensive and expensive fishery program, paid for by the American taxpayer,” prosecutors said in court records.

Schrink’s attorney, Lafayette Beers, said that Schrink is a small businessman who acted at the direction of a fish broker for two tribal fishermen offering fish only if he would illegally report the purchase. Beers said Schrink had agreed to and engaged in four purchases before refusing to do further business with the fishermen. He added that Schrink goes to the Upper Peninsula each week to buy fish because there are few sources in the Lower Peninsula.

Walters Gold Coast Fisheries smokes fish, which is placed in coolers on Schrink’s porch. Customers purchase the fish using the honor system.

Beers said his client was coerced into participating in the scheme, and there was “no windfall” from his participation. He said his client should not be incarcerated and that it was unreasonable for restitution to be set at $270,000. It will be difficult for Schrink to pay.

In December 2015, Schrink was found guilty in Mason County’s 79th District Court for the misdemeanor of operating a wholesale fish market without a license. He was sentenced to $315 in fines and costs.

In November 2015 he was arrested by Mason County Sheriff’s Office for misdemeanors of operating while intoxicated; improper transport of medical marijuana; and open intoxicants in a motor vehicle.

In July 2016 he pleaded guilty in 79th District Court to transporting an open intoxicant and use of marijuana and was sentenced to two days in jail with credit for two days already served, 90 days discretionary jail for one year. His driver’s license was suspended for 180 days and restricted for 150 days, and he was ordered to pay $800 in fines and costs. Charges of improper transportation of medical marijuana and operating while intoxicated (OWI) second offense were dismissed on the motion of the prosecutor with prejudice.

This story is copyrighted © 2017, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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