FISHING -- Media attention and angler outrage may have factored into last week's successful prosecution of four Western Washington men who were caught on April 6 gillnetting 242 prized Lahontan cutthroat trout from Lake Lenore, a prized "quality fishery" south of Coulee City.
Grant County prosecutors, like prosecutors across the state, are chronically overbook with cases. Fish and wildlife cases often are brushed aside to make time for priority cases in which people are the victims.
"Sportsmen's groups and the press did a great job following up and emphasizing the importance and severity of this case," said Capt. Chris Anderson, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement supervisor in Ephrata. "The prosecutor's office responded and did a great job."
Lake Lenore is managed as a selective fishery geared to catching large cutthroat trout. Sport anglers at Lenore are limited to keeping no more than one fish a day.
Vitaliy Kachinskiy, 23, of Mount Vernon, Wash., and three Everett men: Sergey Otroda, 32, Igor Bigun, 26, and Oleg Pavlus, 25, pled guilty to gross misdemeanor charges, Grant County Prosecutor D. Angus Lee confirmed on Friday.
Each man was sentenced to 20 days in jail, 40 days of electronic home monitoring and fines or costs totaling $4,100, he said.
In addition, the pickup being used at the time of their arrest was seized by the two Fish and Wildlife police who staked out the scene and managed to round up the fleeing poachers despite their attempts to escape in the darkness.
"They could appeal the forfeiture in Grant County Superior Court," Anderson said. "But if the judge ruled that we followed the law in our arrest and seizing the vehicle, it would remain the property of the state." No appeal has yet been filed, he said.
WDFW has investigated other instances of illegal gillnetting for sportfish in Eastern Washington lakes involving ethnic groups.
Asked what the men were planning to do with all the fish they illegally netted at Lenore, Anderson said, "We do not have any direct knowledge that these Lenore fish were destined for a market, but we have heard in the past that they do sell the fish within the Russian community only."