Published January 01, 2010, 12:00 AM

Wisconsin bait farmers get probation, fines

Two longtime Wisconsin bait-farming businesses that pleaded guilty to illegally importing fish, increasing the risks of introducing deadly diseases into the state’s waters, were fined and sentenced to probation Thursday.

By: Scott Bauer, Associated Press

MADISON — Two longtime Wisconsin bait-farming businesses that pleaded guilty to illegally importing fish, increasing the risks of introducing deadly diseases into the state’s waters, were fined and sentenced to probation Thursday.

The two companies are among four businesses that pleaded guilty to illegally importing more than $2.5 million worth of market-value suckers, shiners and fathead minnows from Minnesota, Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota without valid permits or health certificates certifying they were free from disease.

State law requires them to be tested for disease before importation.

Hayward Bait and Tackle of Hayward and Friesses Minnow Farm of Cumberland both were sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb.

Hayward was fined $5,000 and Friesses was fined $4,000. Both were placed on probation for two years and ordered to undergo additional monitoring and inspections that could cost each of them as much as $61,500 each year.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Jarosz said the additional testing and inspection requirements were the most stringent imposed on any bait farmer ever prosecuted in federal court.

That monitoring cost could put the companies out of business, their attorney Tim Edwards told the judge. Hayward Bait and Tackle started in 1959 and employs 18 people at the height of fish stocking season. Friesses started in 1964 and employs up to four people.

Both businesses had slim profit margins. Crabb said that at the end of 2008, Hayward had only about $15,000 in profit while Friesses had $3,700. While neither company intentionally broke the law and they cooperated with authorities, Crabb said the risk to the state’s fishing industry was serious enough to warrant the penalties she imposed.

Federal investigators started investigating the illegal fish importation during a 2007 outbreak of the fish-killing disease viral hemorrhagic septicimea, also known as VHS.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators stopped a semitrailer carrying bait that was entering Wisconsin from Minnesota on May 21, 2007. The investigators wanted to check compliance with emergency state rules that banned importing live bait into the state.

The truck driver didn’t have an import permit for the load, which included 500 gallons of wild minnows caught in Minnesota that were headed for Gollon Brothers in Stevens Point, Wis. His company, Buckstar Bait, was an unlicensed minnow dealer at the time, an affidavit for a search warrant said.

VHS was discovered in the Lake Winnebago chain about two weeks before the truck was stopped. The disease causes fish to bleed to death and affects a wide range of species.

Gollon Enterprises, which does business as Gollon Bait and Fish Farm, helped restock Lake Delton with minnows in 2009 after a flood wiped away the lake in 2008.

Gollon Bait & Fish Farm of Dodgeville, Wis., was sentenced Wednesday to three years’ probation, fined $6,000 and also ordered to pay for additional monitoring that could cost as much as $59,000 a year.

The fourth business, Gollon Brothers Wholesale Live Bait, was to be sentenced Jan. 8.

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