Although commercial fisherman Thomas Battice has been sent to prison, his trap nets in Lake Michigan can’t just be pulled out by anyone who wants them out.
The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, which licensed Battice, did what it could to start the process for removing Battice’s nets this week, though, and said in a press release Friday that the nets would eventually be retrieved.
Cpl. Steve Huff, a commercial fish specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resource Protection Section, joined Little River Band of Ottawa Indians conservation officers aboard the tribe’s 32-foot Safeboat on Friday afternoon to mark Battice’s nets as unattended, part of the process that would let the tribe eventually remove the nets.
Huff said the process for having nets retrieved is governed by a federal court order so it is important that it be followed to the letter. Huff said the first step in the process, which he joined LRBOI officers for on Friday, is to mark nets as unattended. Once they are tagged as unattended, they can be removed after a certain period of time.
Huff said Battice’s nets are not in disrepair and, being trap nets instead of gill nets, they won’t collect and kill fish as long as they are maintained.
“Right now, they’re not in violation,” Huff said.
Once the nets are tagged as unattended for four days, then the tribe can start to take action, Huff said.
“After they meet the definition of ‘abandoned,’ according to the (Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority) code, they can be pulled,” Huff said.
Battice has fished under the authority of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians since 2007, the tribe stated. He was sentenced this week in 51st Circuit Court to five years in prison on criminal sexual conduct
The tribe stated it will be removing them and taking care of unrelated abandoned nets in waters off of Oceana County.
“The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians continues to take its responsibilities as the regulator of commercial treaty fishing in its Lake Michigan’s waters seriously and has followed the Battice case closely,”the press release states. “Our prayers and thoughts go out to all the families affected by the tragic and regrettable events associated with this crime and sentencing.
“The Band licenses its tribal members and other Native American commercial fishermen under a consent decree issued by the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan; and in coordination with the four other 1836 treaty fishing tribes of the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA) regulates commercial treaty fishing in Michigan.
“The Band was fully aware of the implications that Battice’s sentencing would have on his commercial fishing operations and had prepared a plan to retrieve his nets if he was unable to fully do so prior to his incarceration. Representatives of the Band were at the sentencing hearing so that the planned response could be implemented immediately. The tribe has been actively working on improving the net markings since July 25 after a meeting with Michigan Steelheader President Jim Vandermass.
“The Band’s commercial fishing research team, in cooperation with a commercial fisher, has already begun taking steps to make the existing nets safe to navigation by resolving missing net markers, adding appropriate markers to those which are currently missing, as well as making adjustments to and retrofitting existing staffs with new flags and applying highly visible paint to markers that are in need of maintenance.
“Simultaneously, the Band instituted their existing plan to remove all nets that have been compromised by weather, boater mishaps and vandalism. Ultimately the Band will retrieve all unattended or abandoned tribal fishing nets from its waters.
“The Little River Band is moving forward as quickly as prudent seamanship will permit, and views its role in this matter with the utmost concern and urgency to protect public safety, Lake Michigan’s fisheries, the environment and its Tribal Sovereignty.”
Westernmost point (king anchor)
of known trap nets
North West Feet
1. 43° 51.970 086° 32.670 159
2. 43° 51. 094 086° 30. 659 131
3. 43°51.787 086°29.630 99
4. 43° 51. 794 086° 28. 300 62
5. 43°52.501 086°29.746 96
6. 43°52.582 086°28.395 62
7. 43°56.690 086°36.818 172
8. 43°56.759 086°36.684 128
9. 43°57.639 086°36.202 126
10. 43°58.411 086°35.770 178
11. 43°58.719 086°35.874 121
Courtesy Ludington Area Charterboat Association