Charged fishers could get contracts

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Friday, February 11, 2011
— Even though two commercial fishermen face felony charges and had a state seining contract revoked after officials say they killed and hid hundreds of game fish on Lake Koshkonong in September, officials say nothing prevents them from bidding for rights to fish the lake again in 2011.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Don Bush says the agency will open bids for carp and rough fish removal contracts next week, and it could award contracts to commercial seining operators in early March.

Bush said under current state law, commercial fishers Steve Kallenbach, 54, Stoddard, and John Bruring, 47, La Crosse, will be allowed to place bids to fish Lake Koshkonong and other state waters the DNR has designated for rough fish removal.

Kallenbach and Bruring are accused of killing almost 700 game fish at Lake Koshkonong Sept. 2 while netting carp and other rough fish on a DNR contract. The two then hid the dead fish along the lakeshore, according to a criminal complaint filed last month in Jefferson County Court.

Kallenbach and Bruring had a five-year DNR seining contract for buffalo fish and carp at Lake Koshkonong. The DNR revoked the contract in October after investigators learned the two had filed false catch records claiming they'd killed just 18 game fish on Sept. 2, according to court documents.

Meanwhile, Bruring faces unrelated charges for fishing in Refuge-Mill Creek at Beaver Dam Lake. He was convicted in La Crosse County in May 2008 of illegal use of fishing nets, according to court records.

Still, Bruring's conviction and his charges don't bar him from bidding this year for seining contracts at Lake Koshkonong or other bodies of water, officials said.

Under state law, commercial fishers only are barred from fishing under a DNR contract if they've been convicted of two or more conservation violations within a three-year time span—or if they've had a fishing contract terminated.

Two of Bruring's alleged violations are still pending.

What's more, Kallenbach and Bruring's revoked Lake Koshkonong seining contract actually was held by Bruring's girlfriend, Tammy Schyvinck, who officials say was not part of the fishing crew at the lake.

Even though Schyvinck was not involved in the fishing operations, the contract was revoked under her name—not under Kallenbach or Bruring's, Bush explained.

Bush, who oversees contract fishing at Lake Koshkonong, said that in the wake of the fish kill last year at the lake, the DNR plans to tighten oversight of commercial fishing contracts—particularly during the contract awarding phase.

One possible change: The DNR would no longer allow commercial fishing contracts to be held by people who aren't active members of a fishing crew.

"The person holding the contract would need to be a part of the daily operation," Bush said.

Bush said the DNR also is considering more stringent background searches before awarding contracts to commercial fishers, even though in most cases the fishers pay the DNR for access to waters designated for rough fish removal. In turn, the fishers sell the fish to national fish markets.

Some of the rough fish—buffalo, for example—can sell for as much as $1 per pound, Bush said.

"You're almost looking at the same price that salmon along coastal Alaska are bringing," Bush said.

Bush said there are about 25 commercial fishers who regularly bid to remove rough fish from Wisconsin waters. Those fishers have the equipment and expertise to remove hundreds of thousands of pounds of harmful rough fish from the Rock River basin and other bodies of water, he said.

With that expertise, however, comes the public's expectation that the fishers will operate responsibly, Bush said.

"There's a higher level of accountability and responsibility that we need to expect of these seiners," he said.

Last updated: 4:20 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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