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Illinois Conservation Police Cite Businesses That Violate Aquatic Invasive Species Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACTS:
Chris Young
217-557-1240
Illinois Conservation Police Cite Businesses That Violate Aquatic Invasive Species Laws
Fines total nearly $30,000 for violations of permit requirements
SPRINGFIELD, IL � Three out-of-state businesses have been prosecuted for violating Illinois laws governing the importation of fish species that can become invasive, or can potentially spread Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS).  Investigations by the Illinois Conservation Police have resulted in fines of nearly $30,000, with the potential for additional fines as the remaining case is adjudicated.

Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm of Peru, Indiana was fined $25,000 for selling or importing over $153,000 worth of aquatic life without required licenses or permits in Illinois. The business entered a guilty plea in Cook County court to unlawful import of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) susceptible species without import permits.  Realistic Bait, LLC of Lowell, Indiana was fined $4,000 for failure to possess a non-resident aquatic life dealer�s permit, VHS import permit, or restricted species permit. Farm Cat, Inc. of Lonoke, Arkansas also was cited for importing fish without the proper permits. Charges are pending.

�Illinois Conservation Police will take a strong stand against Aquatic Nuisance Species, and will take all steps necessary to prevent the spread of invasive species of fish and disease,� said Rafael Gutierrez, Chief of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Law Enforcement. �We expect those who import fish into Illinois will strictly follow all rules and procedures to keep these invasive species out of Illinois ponds, lakes, streams and rivers.�

All cases have been or are currently being prosecuted with the assistance of the Environmental Crimes Bureau of Illinois Attorney General�s Office. 

Realistic Bait, LLC / Owner Phillip Taylor
Lowell, Indiana

Realistic Bait, LLC unlawfully imported minnows and grass carp into Illinois without required permits.  Realistic Bait, LLC also did not possess a non-resident aquatic life dealer�s license, VHS import permit, or restricted species permit.  The investigation revealed Realistic Bait, LLC was delivering bait fish to seven different businesses in Will and Grundy Counties.  The invoices gathered from those businesses totaled over $14,000. On June 18, 2013, an employee of Realistic Bait, LLC was observed selling live bait at a business in Will County. Conservation Police seized Golden Shiners, Fathead Minnows, and White Suckers.  The minnows were tested for VHS and the results were negative.  Both the owner and company entered guilty pleas on August 19, 2014, to the unlawful importation of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) susceptible species without import permits.  Fines totaled $4,000.

Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm / Owner Mark Eikenberry  
Peru, Indiana

Compliance checks conducted on fish markets in Chicago in 2012 revealed Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm and owner Mark Eikenberry were supplying grass carp, bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass, striped bass, bighead carp, tilapia, eels, and turtles to those markets.  Eikenberry did not have a VHS or Restricted Species permit.  Eikenberry�s non-resident aquatic life dealer�s license was also expired.  In September of 2012, Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm was stopped in Effingham County while hauling live grass carp, largemouth bass, hybrid bluegill, channel catfish, and turtles without a VHS or Restricted Species permit. VHS results for the fish were negative.  An additional test of the sampled grass carp revealed they were diploids, meaning they could reproduce. Further investigation revealed Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm had sold or imported over $153,000 worth of aquatic life without required licenses or permits in Illinois.  On January 30, 2014, Sweetwater Springs Fish Farm and Eikenberry entered a guilty plea in Cook County court to unlawful import of Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) susceptible species without import permits.  Fines totaled $25,000.

Farm Cat, Inc. / Owner Thad Finley
Lonoke, Arkansas

In February of 2014, Illinois Conservation Police learned Farm Cat, Inc. had delivered live channel catfish to a Chicago fish market without a VHS import permit and non-resident aquatic life dealer�s license.  Invoices gathered from six different businesses showed Farm Cat, Inc. had delivered largemouth bass, grass carp, channel catfish, and tilapia.  Further investigation revealed that between January of 2013 and April of 2014, Farm Cat, Inc. had imported and sold over $712,000 worth of aquatic life without the required dealer�s license and or VHS import permit.  Charges against Farm Cat, Inc. and owner, Thad Finley, are currently pending.                

Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) 

Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) virus is a serious pathogen of fresh and saltwater fish, and is a disease in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada.  This virus has recently been found in the Great Lakes Basin and has caused fish kills since 2005.  VHS is easily transmitted.  There are a number of likely vectors (or vehicles) to move the virus between waters:

� Moving/stocking infected fish (bait/game fish or gametes) from one water to another
� Planting infected fish or releasing infected fish or water from infected fish hatcheries (to date no fish hatcheries have been found to be infected)
� The natural movement of infected fish from one water to another
� Moving infected water, fish or fish parts from one water to another in the ballast  water of shipping vessels
� Moving infected water, fish or fish parts from one water body to another in live wells of fishing boats or in bilges of recreational and fishing boats.

So far in 2014, the IDNR has issued 202 fish importation permits.  This includes Restricted Species Transportation, VHS-susceptible, and Salmonid importation permits.  The IDNR Division of Fisheries Aquaculture or Aquatic Nuisance Species Programs can answer permit questions at (217) 785-8722.  For more information, visit: http://www.ifishillinois.org/programs/aquaculture.html.

To stop the movement of all aquatic nuisance species and diseases, sportsmen and women are reminded to �Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers� and �Be a Hero � Transport Zero� by following three simple steps:  1) Remove plants animals and mud from equipment; 2) Drain all water from your boat and gear; and 3) Dry everything thoroughly with a towel.
 
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