May 14, 2023
All of the standard legal cliches work here, including "if you do the crime, you pay the time." That now includes cheating in a walleye tournament, as last fall’s "We've got weights in fish!" scandal at a Lake Erie walleye tournament came to an end last week in an Ohio courtroom.
The two men, who had previously pleaded guilty to inserting lead weighs into the fish they brought to the weigh-in of the tournament last fall, will in fact pay the time. Jacob Runyan, 43, and Chase Cominsky, 36, were each sentenced to 10 days of local incarceration and 1 1/2 years of community control, and fined $2,500 by a Cuyahoga County judge.
According to a May 11 news release from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley’s office, the men also received the maximum suspension of their fishing licenses, and Cominsky was required to forfeit his boat used in the tournament, with an estimated value of $130,000.
The sentences closed a case that began on Sept. 20, 2022, when lead weights were found in walleyes the two men weighed in at a Lake Erie Walleye Trail event. Had Runyan and Cominsky won the event with the heaviest string of five walleye, they would have received a total prize of $28,760, according to O'Malley’s office. Instead, 10 weights were found inside the walleye, including eight that weighed 12 ounces and two that weighed eight ounces. There were also several walleye filets stuffed inside the five fish submitted at the tournament scale.
Earlier this spring, Runyan, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, and Cominsky, of Hermitage, Pa., agreed to plead guilty to one count of Cheating (a felony of the fifth degree and resulting in the forfeiture of Cominsky’s boat on Oct. 11, 2022) and one count of Unlawful Ownership of Wild Animals (a misdemeanor of the fourth degree).
O'Malley minced no words about the two men. "I have no doubt that these two crooks cheated in multiple tournaments over the last several years," O’Malley said in the news release. "Unfortunately, we can only hold them accountable for what they did on September 30, 2022.
"Although these two deserve to have their fishing license suspended for life, the law only allows a maximum of three years," O'Malley added. "These two should be banned from every fishing tournament for life. They are thieves and now they are convicted felons. This sends a message to the fishing community that cheaters will be held accountable in Cuyahoga County."
The lead-weight scandal attracted plenty of attention soon after Runyan and Cominsky were accused of cheating in a viral video from the weigh-in that has now been viewed 2.2 million times on YouTube. The video showed tournament director Jason Fischer discovering the ruse and the angry scene that followed. Fischer reportedly squeezed a fish and felt something unusual inside. As was noted by Game & Fish last fall, at least one fish was then cut open, and Fischer exclaimed, "We’ve got weights in fish." In seconds, irate competitors screamed and shouted obscenities at the pair of suspected cheaters.
Winterkill Likely to Bring Reduced Tag Numbers
If you live west of the Great Plains or you're a weather junkie, then you probably know that record snowfall, severe cold, and seemingly endless winter storms have resulted in a significant wildlife loss in some western states.
In late March, Colorado Parks and Wildlife public information officer Rachael Gonzales reported that deep snows were severely impacting elk in the northwestern part of the state. Winterkill losses were high, and CPW officials were trying to help with supplemental feedings. Also, lethal vehicle/wildlife collisions were more common, and weakened big-game animals might still succumb in the coming weeks because of malnutrition brought on by the winter conditions and search for food to survive.
In early April, the Cowboy State Daily newspaper reported that after last year's banner year for pronghorn antelope, particularly for high horned trophy bucks, this winter has proven catastrophic and some regions of the state have staggering losses of speed goats. Outdoor Sportsman Group TV personality and media member Guy Eastman was quoted in the story, noting that if some of the huge antelope losses being predicted in certain parts of the state prove to be true, it's a loss on a scale unlike anything western big-game hunters have seen in their lifetimes.
And late last month, The Laramie Boomerang reported that one of the Cowboy State's top mule deer herds may have lost more than half its mulies after the long, drawn-out winter.
What's the result of all of this bad winterkill news in Colorado, Wyoming, and elsewhere across the West? High mortality rates for some big-game herds—and likely for some upland birds too—could impact 2023 tag allocations for hunters this fall, along with fewer critters on the landscape for those who do get to hunt.
Florida Proposes New Snook Management
Walk the summertime beaches, prowl the Everglades backcountry in a skiff, or cast a fly around a lighted dock in the southeastern Florida megalopolis, and you'll undoubtedly see and catch a few snook. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has proposed new management regions and changes in management regulations to try and make the important fishery even better.
According to a FWC news release, the rule changes include: establishing nine management regions for snook across the state, matching Atlantic side and Gulf side regs with the new regulations (with the exception of the West Coast's Charlotte Harbor), implementing a two-fish vessel limit (for harvest), and including September in the summer season closure (for harvest).
"This adaptive, holistic approach to fisheries management is the key to conserving our fisheries for future generations," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto in the news release. "On behalf of the Commission, I want to encourage anglers and anyone interested in the future of snook in Florida to get involved and share your valuable feedback with FWC staff."
To do that before the final FWC Commission rule hearing in October, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.
B.A.S.S. officials announced last week that after an extensive investigation, a recent disqualification of Keith Poche's first-day catch at last month’s Bassmaster Open on Toledo Bend Reservoir would be upheld based on what the organization deemed as a rule's violation. Poche explained his side of the controversy on social media and provided evidence from his viewpoint that would put him in the clear. If you'd like to read more about the situation, read more on BassFan. ... Have quail on your property and want to build their numbers? Well, Quail Forever and its partners have announced the unveiling of the new Bobscapes mobile app that is designed to help aid private-land quail management, as well as document northern bobwhite quail population numbers across the country. "This revolutionary new app can be a game changer for our favorite upland bird, helping identify where northern bobwhite exist while funneling habitat resources in their direction," said Dr. Jessica McGuire, the Working Lands for Wildlife bobwhite program manager, according to a QF news release about the new app. ... Idaho Fish and Game officials have recently begun rainbow trout suppression efforts on the Gem State's South Fork Snake River in an ongoing effort to protect the genetic integrity of the beloved and native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. By using electro-shocking gear, biologists will be stunning and manually removing rainbow trout from the river and relocating them to other nearby waters for the next several weeks. With the suppression effort, IDFG officials hope to reduce hybridization between the Yellowstone cutts and non-native rainbows.