An investigation by Ohio Division of Wildlife’s agents is pointing toward a possible cascade effect of alleged - and illegal - selling of fish and game, chiefly walleye and white-tailed deer that may involve individuals in as many as eight counties stretching across the width of northern Ohio.
Called “Operation North Coast,” the on-going Wildlife Division-led investigation has thus far led to the issuance of five search warrants and the interviewing of around 40 individuals, says John Windau, agency spokesman.
The warrants were served this past weekend. In one Wildlife Division-supplied photograph, about 30 trophy buck mounts were shown as seized evidence.
Evidence gleaned from “Operation North Coast” and expected additional studious work will be turned over to various county prosecutors, anyone of whom may be expected to impanel a grand jury. Potentially impacted county prosecutors include those from Wood, Erie, Ottawa, Lorain, Portage, Richland, Cuyahoga, and Ashtabula counties.
Charges are expected against at least some individuals for various alleged illegal activities discovered in the course of the investigation and subsequent and related agency-driven efforts, Windau said.
Windau said the agents’ work included at least two deer-hunting seasons plus last summer’s walleye-fishing season.
Besides the possibility of alleged illegal selling of fish and game there is evidence that suggests there was some “gross over-harvesting” of deer in at least some instances, Windau said as well.
The genesis of the investigation, Windau said, was prompted by calls to the states Turn-In-A-Poacher (TIP) hotline; a toll-free telephone project that allows the public to call in with possible fish and game law violations. Tipsters are potentially eligible for monetary rewards.
Windau said that while the investigation did not have a connect-the-dots scenario about it, “Operation North Coast” investigators were able to channel their energies and work at alleged similar illegal activity elsewhere; thus a cascade effect.
“It may take a few weeks to file all of the charges since there’s a lot of material and evidence to sort through,” Windau said.
This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.
By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff is the recipient of more than 125 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.